Editorial comment May 2015

3rd May

Editorial

The arts:  does it have a future in Leicester?

As Leicester prepares to elect a mayor (or should I say re-elect?) it is a good time to think about the role that the arts and music might (or should) play in the future of Leicester.

I say ‘the arts’ but let me be quick to clarify that the way I use that term, is quite different from its usual use. For me the arts includes music, entertainment, heritage and many other aspects of culture. It might be a convenient label but what I do not mean by it is arts as in painting, drawings or any other form of the kind of fine arts that are too frequently associated with the proclivities of middle class intellectuals.

For me the arts is an inclusive phrase that encompasses the wide diversity of cultural interests and in this city that stands for a lot. It most certainly includes the creative industries -something for which Leicester has an outstanding reputation.

The arts – broadly defined – plays a key role in the city’s economy – more so now than at any time in the past. Many people would acknowledge the contribution that the whole Richard III thing has done for the city; so too, many would salute the impact on the city of the Comedy Festival. Leicester might have significant sporting achievements and it is might be the case that some aspects of sport also bring wealth to the city.   I am not the best one to ask about sport.

Of all the arts, various defined, music stands out where Leicester is concerned. I have long argued that music is the biggest sector of the arts – in terms of the proportion of public engagement and in terms of its contribution to the overall economy. The loss of the Summer Sundae music festival was a blow for the city.  Each year it brought a lot of people into the city and was probably the most valuable cultural asset we had after the comedy festival. Sadly, there are no plans, that I know of,  to replace it with another national music event.  The Simon Says festival is great for showcasing and celebrating our local talent but it largely engages only local music fans. People should be heading into Leicester to witness the amazing spread and quality of our local bands and singers; sadly this is not happening. What keeps Leicester out of the major tours of the big national and international acts is the small size of our venues.  Leicester simply does not have a big enough venue to attract major music acts.

Two of the biggest festivals in the country take place in Derbyshire. Even Nottingham has a bigger pull for music fans from around the country. If we cannot attract commercial finance for a large arena, then plan B should be to use our valuable public spaces (Victoria and Abbey parks) for a music festival that would place the city on the national map.

Open-air events take place in the city throughout the summer.  Our city is fortunate in having the infrastructure to host large-scale indoor festivals – as the comedy festival ably demonstrates. The city has a wealth of small venues and audiences seem to like the intimacy of crowded rooms for comedy and music shows. We have three venues that can host audiences of up to two thousand and one that can seat up to 800. That is roughly speaking enough to mount a major festival for music or other forms of arts.

What helps Leicester is its transport infrastructure. Good train connections and motorways makes it a destination that is relatively easy to get to. Much more needs to be done to plan and integrate out transport networks but as they stand they are not that bad. Within the city there is a fairly good bus service, at least up to 10:30pm. Late night public transport to and from the city centre is an issue that needs a lot of work; the night-time economy is important but for some reason the bus companies cannot seem to make a profit from running buses after 10.30pm.

The Mayoral candidates were asked, on the Radio Leicester hustings programme, where they thought Leicester would be in ten years time.  This was asked right at the end of the programme’s allotted time and each candidate could make only a one sentence reply. What a wasted opportunity.  I would have started with that question; it would have challenged each of the seven hopefuls to set out their vision for the future of Leicester. if you are going to elect someone to run the city (that is more or less what the role of Mayor entails) then the one thing you want to know is whether they do in fact have a vision for its future. You also want to know if their vision makes sense. Even if you do not agree with the idea of a city having a powerful Mayor, you have to accept that (for now at least) we have one. What I most wanted to know from each of those seven candidates was whether they had a vision for the future of the city. The hour-long debate (or perhaps cross examination) did give us a few clues as to what these people think are the issues for Leicester. There were a few moments of decisive thinking but a lot of what they said was party rhetoric or their own idiosyncratic musings.

It is good that we have had Mayoral hustings. It is good that we are able to vote and have a choice of candidates (not all of them represent the mainstream parties) but it sad that the candidates were not offering robust or credible visions of what they could do to make Leicester more successful than it is. Most of the candidates (except one) were uninspiring and weak on vision and experience. Let us hope that whoever gets elected will see the arts and music as being important to the city’s future – all of the arts and not just some blinkered take on what we think the arts is or might become.

Trevor Locke

See also:

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News about the 2015 general election

Politicians and the arts

 

Arts and politicians

29th April 2015

What’s wrong with Labour’s policy on the Arts?

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In 2011 we reported on the visit to Leicester of Labour’s Ed Miliband.

“The creative industries are vitally important for the economic recovery of the UK, ” said Labour Leader Ed Miliband, in Leicester today to rally the local troops behind Jon Ashworth, candidate for the Leicester South by-election. Answering a question from ArtsIn editor Trevor Locke, Mr. Miliband acknowledged that the arts generally and the creative industries in particular were important for economic growth and the UK was able to attract industry on a global basis.
Trevor Locke explained to him that Leicester stands out in the UK as a centre for the development of creative industry but that the hustings, currently taking place in the run-up to the elections on 5th May, had not focused on this issue.

Ed was keen to point out that Labour Policy does support the Arts and does see the potential contribution it can make both for economic development and for its own sake.

When he asked Trevor Locke why he thought that there was a problem with Labour’s Arts policy, Trevor commented “It’s just not getting through in the hustings that are taking place here right now”.

“Leicester stands out nationally for its culture, arts and creative industries and more could be done to put our city on the map”, Trevor said. “If the politicians are not talking about this, maybe its because they lack a firm programme”, he said.

Speaking at a meeting of invited guests, Mr. Miliband expressed his support for the work of De Montfort University in developing key projects which would have a bearing on the future of Leicester.

Looking relaxed and confident, the Labour Leader fielded a broad range of questions from party activists, people from the local community who might not have been Labour voters and students from Leicester schools and colleges.

Labour leader Ed Miliband, standing the middle of the room in his shirt sleeves, on this warm and sunny afternoon, rather than from behind a rostrum,  said this was an informal opportunity for people to get up close to the Leader of the Opposition and listen to his views on a wide variety of topics, as he answered questions from people in the room.

Responding to a question from Geoff Rowe, of the Big Difference company and Leicester Comedy Festival, Mr. Miliband said that the 2012 Olympics would offer opportunities for people in the regions to get involved.

He commented that sport is one of the UK’s leading exports and hoped that British Athlete’s would come away from London with a respectable collection of medals.

So what does Labour have to say about policies for the Arts? See Mayoral Candidate Peter Soulsby’s manifesto. 17 pages long … try searching for the word “arts”.

To be fair, it does include the commitment “Explore the possibility of making a bid for the 2017 ‘UK City of Culture’.” and “Continue to support small arts organisations in our City … “. Labour will ” … also support Leicester’s strengths in the creative industries. ”

We have not yet seen a manifesto for Leicester South conservative candidate Jane Hunt.

Gary Hunt is standing in Leicester for the office of Elected Mayor. Speaking on the BBC Mayoral Hustings at CURVE, he made a point of raising a wide range of specific local issues but the arts was not one of them. Zuffar Haq is the Lib-Dems parliamentary candidate in Leicester South.

A trawl through the web sites of these politicians reveals that none of them have anything to say about arts issues, including the all-important key topic of support for our local creative industries.

[Arts in Leicester magazine, 19th April 2011]

Also, in 2011 we ran a news story on some work that Leicester South MP Jon Ashworth had been doing:

Leicester South MP Jon Ashworth featured in Arts in Leicester magazine

Ashworth hosts summit in bid to make Leicester top destination for music acts and bands and promote Leicester’s talent

Leicester South MP, and keen music fan, Jon Ashworth MP working with Leicester Shire Promotions is hosting a ‘summit’ dinner in the House of Commons, today in a bid to promote Leicester as top destination for big band and major music acts.

Jon Ashworth MP said “I’ve always been a big fan of music and I see no reason why we can’t attract more high profile bands and major music acts to Leicester in the same way Birmingham and Nottingham attract major acts

“That’s why I’ve teamed up with Martin Peters of Leicester Shire Promotions and pulled together this summit in the House of Commons this week with major figures from the music industry to bang the drum for Leicester and tell them what we can offer and at the same time promote Leicester’s music scene and our local talent as well.

“Given our large student population and with venues like the O2 Academy, De Montfort Hall plus our two stadiums, we should be able to get major bands and acts to come to Leicester when on tour.

“I hope this summit will be a chance to discuss how we get more acts to Leicester as well as look at how we make it more viable for those venues to put on the acts”, Mr Ashworth told us.

Those attending the summit will be representatives from the Leicester Alliance of Music Promoters; O2 Academy; De Montfort Hall; The Auditorium; City Council and Coda Music Agency. From the national music industry attending the summit dinner will be representatives of BPI (British Recorded Music Industry); Music Managers Forum; UK Music; Music Week and Live Nation.

Editor of Arts in Leicestershire magazine, Trevor Locke, commented “This is a step forward for music in Leicester. Apart from big bands coming into town, I hope the group will consider the 200 bands resident in the city who will be looking for support slots.”

[Arts in Leicester magazine, 28th July 2011]

See also

Leicester and the election of 2015

News about the election of 2015 and the arts

Our coverage of the election of 2010

 

 

 

Election2010

Tuesday 14th April 2015

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Artsin’s coverage of the 2010 general election

Arts in Leicester magazine gave some coverage to the general election of 2010.  We dug back into our archives to see what we published.

Our magazine published an editorial on 7th April 2010 in which we wrote:

There has never been a better time to ask questions about the arts of our political leaders. Between now and 6th May, we have a great opportunity to fly the flag for the arts, both nationally and in Leicester/shire. The politicians want our votes. As fans, followers and consumers of the arts and as artists, we want their support. So, let’s ask them ‘what are they going to do for us’? Us, the people who produce arts and entertainment and the people who benefit from the what artists give to our society and our community.

Arts in Leicestershire intends to ask questions at the hustings. We want to know, from the main political parties, how they see the arts, what policies they would implement, what support they would give and what commitments they would see their party entering into, where the arts is concerned.

Why is the arts important? In our view the arts is more than just the icing on the cake; it is much more than a luxury. Arts and entertainments of all kinds benefit the economy, the community and society. Art is not a sideline or a marginal add-on: art is something much closer to the well-being and soul of society and to the life blood of our local community

We urge both artists and the public who benefit from the arts, to ask questions of the candidates. Ask them to think about the arts. Ask them to say what their policies are for the arts.

Our material about the election of 2010 was published in the blog associated with the magazine

The UK General Election has been announced for 6th May 2010.

Now is a good time to ask questions about how the political parties intend to support the arts. The hustings are a time when people who are concerned about the arts ask the political parties and their candidates about their policies for the arts.

Here are some questions we would like to ask:

(1) What support will your party give to the arts?

(2) Does your party have a policy about the arts and in particular the role that the arts can play in the economy and in developing social cohesion?

(3) Where does the arts stand in your general system of priorities?

(4) Who do you think benefits from the arts in the community? What benefits does the arts confer on various segments of our community?

(5) Will your party continue support for the Arts Council? How will your party support the Arts Council?

(6) How do you think the arts can be enabled to become more diverse and inclusive?

These are general questions that apply nationally. No doubt there are many more more questions that could be asked and hopefully readers will add their comments.

In particular, we would like to receive comments from people who have asked questions about the arts and what replies candidates have given.

We will also want to ask those questions to candidates standing in Leicester and Leicestershire.

In the blog, we said:

Guardian Blogger Jonathan Jones argues that no one would decide which party to vote for, based on their policy for the arts, alone. Well obviously. But the point is that there will be many people who are undecided which way they will vote. There are many substantial issues which will decide the outcome of the election and many issues that each voter might want to address when deciding where to place their tick. My line is that the arts is not the “cultural comforts of the middle class” but something that is the heritage of all people, in whatever class they think they are.

But there are many more crucial arts issues than great paintings or funding for the BBC. The arts contributes to health and social cohesion, as we have covered in the main body of Arts in Leicestershire. Community Arts projects have helped thousands of disadvantaged people in Leicestershire alone. When we think “arts” we will hopefully see the wider picture and not just see paintings in the National Gallery or costume dramas on the telly.

When it comes to schools, jobs and health, artists have contributed a great deal. The interest group for arts activities in the general public. Everyone benefits in some way or other.

We also reported a news item:

ARTS COUNCIL CHIEF URGES COUNCILS TO KEEP ARTS INVESTMENT

Arts Council Chief Executive Alan Davey urges local authorities to maintain their investment in the arts. He argues that the arts confers economic and social benefits and can play an ever greater roles in the success of local communities.

Even though public finance will be under great pressure, the arts can deliver great benefit, he argued, in a recent speech. He pointed to examples of the arts contributing a great deal to local economies.

Later that year we ran the following editorial

Does the arts give value for money?

Do we get value for money from the Arts? When times are hard and people do not have much to spend, it is more important than ever that the arts are seen to be good value for money.

During the great depression of the 1920s, the one thing that bucked the trend was entertainment. People escaped from the harsh realities of every day life by going to clubs, pubs and music halls, where they could enjoy themselves and find some relief from the tribulations of worklessness, poverty and low incomes.

People haven’t changed that much. They still have a need for entertainment. What has changed of course is how they get it. Even in the poorest homes in this city you will find television sets. If people want to get out of the house and do something a bit more social, there are numerous opportunities available to suit all tastes.

Is art just for posh people? Well fine art or classical art might be but here at Artsin we take a different approach. Our pages reflect an overlap between the arts and entertainment. We do cover fine art but we tend to cover art as entertainment.

We have pages on comedy, popular dance, community arts, music for the masses, festivals and our visual arts pages cover films, photography, video and digital. We might even cover magic, fashion, poetry and children’s books. We take a wider view of the arts than most comparable magazines. We try to see the bigger picture.

If you had £20 to spend on a night out, what would you do? See a band? Go for a laugh at a comedy gig? See a show at Curve or De Montfort Hall? You could do any of these things on a budget of £20. If you’re unemployed, over 60 or under 16, the chances are you will get a discount ticket. There are also quite a few free events, particularly if you are a fan of live music.

if you want posh art and you can afford it, you have plenty of choices. What’s important here is that the arts, as we see them, are available to everyone. If you are from the Asian community, you have lots going on from Bangra to Bollywood. If you are from the African or Caribbean communities, you will not be short of things to do. If you are Polish or from one of the many European groups settled in Leicester, there will be events specific to your cultural interests.

This vibrant, multi-cultural city and county offers its peoples a huge variety of choice. Events of all kinds go on all year round, almost every day of the week, providing something for everyone, no matter what their age, ethnicity, orientation or health status. This is what makes Leicester a great place to live.

We get asked whether arts (broadly defined) should be subsidised from the public purse. We get asked specially whether the ‘big’ venues, like the De Montfort Hall, Curve or the Phoenix should be subsidised by rate payers.

We say no. There is no need for arts and entertainment venues to be subsidised by tax payers, especially in these financially stringent times. Generally speaking the arts and entertainment should be self-financing.

There is a case for investing in new artists, minority arts, the leading edge of creativity, improvements to access for people with disabilities, projects reaching out to people with mental or physical health issues, the very old, the very poor, the young … certain specific arts activities should qualify for financial support, where it is difficult or impossible to expect them to be self-financing.

A lot of work is going on to use the arts as a medium for reaching out to disadvantaged or excluded groups. That support should come primarily from charities but there is some case for justifying support from local authorities or the NHS were there are proven benefits both to the target groups (old, young, ill, excluded, at risk) and the public. The well being of individuals, groups and communities can be enhanced by the arts and there is a strong case for supporting these projects with money and other resources.

We do not see a case for justifying public expenditure on ‘big’ venues. Multi-million pound venues should be self-financing and not underwritten by the tax payer. That is not say that the buildings concerned should be in the private sector. We have already argued the case, in a previous editorial, for social enterprise approaches to running arts venues.

There is probably a stronger case for supporting the smaller venues that are vital to the life of a local community, where building and operating costs are difficult to sustain. Where the benefit to a community is worth every penny of the relatively small budgets they work to.

Big venues should be able pay for themselves. If they can’t then they are doing some wrong.

Art and entertainment bring millions of pounds into the local economy. More and more people are coming to Leicester and the county to enjoy the many festivals, events, shows and occasions that are on offer here. Those people contribute to local businesses, hotels, restaurants, bars, taxis … leisure is a vital part of the local economy.

Should local politicians meddle in the arts? asks Robert Mandell in a recent article in This is Leicestershire. In an outspoken and forthright piece, the one-time music Director of the Haymarket Theatre, argues that Leicester City Council should stop meddling in the arts. The debate continues as to how to find a sustainable future for the Hall that does not involve public subsidy. Politicians are divided on the issue of whether privatisation is the answer.

The City Council’s cabinet is to consider a “draft De Montfort Hall business plan”, according to The Leicester Mercury. Why? Do politicians think they can run an arts venue? Apparently they do and this lies at the root of the problems facing the DMH, and Curve. If the Council has any control over the future of these venues, there is only thing it should be doing: making sure that properly qualified and experienced managers are running them and then leaving them to get on with their jobs.

All these ‘big’ venues play a vital role in our local arts scene but none of them if big enough to compete with the high capacity theatres in Birmingham and Nottingham. Leicester politicians have only so far succeeded in putting relatively small capacity venues into the city. In consequence, Leicester fans have to travel outside of the city to get spend their ticket pounds elsewhere.
What Leicester needs is an arena level venue that can offer local people a local choice for big name acts and which could bring much needed revenue into the local economy. Not much chance of getting that in the present climate but as a long term goal, that is, in our view, a serious project.

[Arts in Leicester magazine,  25th November 2010]

See also:

Our lead article on the 2015 elections

Election 15 news

2011: Labour’s policy on the arts

Twitter

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In the run-up to 7th May, Artsin’s editor will be posting on his Twitter account.

Election15News

14th April 2015

News about the general election in Leicester

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Our special news report about the 2015 general election in Leicester and Leicestershire

This year’s election see the second vote for the position of Mayor, the post having been created in 2011 as one of a number of cities being given elected Mayors by the government.

Thursday 30th April

Mayoral debate takes to the airwaves

All seven candidates who are running for the office of Mayor of Leicester gathered at the Embrace Arts centre tonight to answer questions from members of the public.

Hosted by Radio Leicester presenter, Ben Jackson, the seven candidates gave their answers to the questions during the sixty minute programme.

The candidates were:  Barbie Potter, Adrian Barnes, Paul Bremner, Tim Grayson, Avtar Singh, Peter Soulsby and Dutch Velduizen.

No question dealt directly with the arts or music;  the last question included culture and several questions were about topics that would affect the arts, including issues to do with transport.  Economic issues cropped up quite a lot but many candidates failed to recognise the important of the arts or even of the creative industries in the future of the city’s development.

The first question to be put to the panel was about the space created by the demolition of the New Walk centre (previously the offices of the City Council.) Replies given by the candidates to this question highlighted either their lack of vision or their inability to sense public opinion in the round.  One candidate suggested that the space should be used to build an ice rink and another thought it should be used as a basketball venue.  When one candidate put forward the view that it should be used as a public open space, Ben Jackson challenged him to explain how this could be funded and hot it would recoup the cost of development.

During the debate around the final question, put by Geoff Rowe (the organiser of the comedy festival) most of the candidates acknowledged that Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival was a very important tourist attraction for the city, bringing millions of pounds of economic benefits into the city each year. No mention was made by any of the candidates of the loss of the Summer Sundae festival and that Leicester now has no major music festival of national importance.

Mention was made of the importance of the Attenborough Arts centre (in which tonight’s debate was recorded) and one candidate suggested that there should be a pageant to celebrate Richard III.

Commenting on the seven candidates, editor of this magazine, Trevor Locke, said (after the debate): “On the whole all the candidates were weak in ideas and vision.  This would have been an ideal opportunity to say what they would do for the arts and music but it turned out to be a missed opportunity.”

The one candidate who stood out on the panel was the incumbent Mayor who had seen over 40 years as a politician – more than all of the others’ experience put together.  It is sad that the Mayoral elections have not attracted a more prestigious selection and that none of them have really made strong points about the arts and music.

The debate will be available from Radio Leicester on iPlayer at some stage.

Read our editorial on the future of arts policy in Leicester.

Tuesday 14th April 2015

Hustings held at Cathedral

Some of the candidates standing for election in some of the city and county gathered at Leicester Cathedral tonight to answer questions from the public.

Quizzing the parties at The Cathderal
Quizzing the parties at The Cathedral

The panel consisted of

John Ashworth, parliamentary candidate for the Labour party (Leicester South)
Michael Barker, The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition party (Leicester East)
Paul Bremner, standing for Mayor (Conservative)
Tim Grayson, standing for Mayor (Green party)
Zuffar Haq, parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrat party (Harborough)
David Sprason,  parliamentary candidate for the UKIP party (Bosworth)

and was chaired by The Bishop of Leicester The Right Reverend Tim Stevens.

Given the rubric ‘Quiz the Parties’ the evening allowed members of the public to hear what this selection of candidates had to say. Each of the men (there were no women on the panel) was given a set time in which to make an opening and closing statement of their views.  Members of the audience asked questions, each candidate being given a set amount of time in which to answer.

None of them said anything about the arts. Clearly not a subject on their agenda of priorities. The main issues were talked about, covering a wide range of topics including the  economy, the NHS, housing, immigration and Trident. The first question hit an unusual note when an audience question asked the candidates to say what can government do to put morality at the heart of national, economic policy-making. Several speakers did see moral issues as being part of the electoral debate:  justice, equality, humanity, fairness, respect and so on.

It was a genteel occasion, as befitted the environment in which it was held. None of the candidates really stood out.  Sitting MP John Ashworth had the most experience, having represented the Leicester South consistency since his election to the seat in the 2011 by-election when the sitting MP Sir Peter Soulsby stood down. Some of the other candidates have served as councillors in the city or the country and one or two had no previous experience of elected office.

They were there to represent the views of their party. Sir Peter Soulsby, who is seeking a second term of office as Mayor, was not there, The Labour Party being represented by John Ashworth.

The event lasted for an hour and a half and with a panel of six speakers time for speaking was in short supply. Gone are the days when politicians would make speeches lasting for two to three hours, as they used to in Leicester long ago. In this age of the Internet, there are plenty of opportunities to hear what politicians have to say in the media, on Twitter and  what ever social media each one chooses to use.

Politics is less personal these days; more digital as each politician tries to reach the largest number of people, TV and the Internet giving them much more reach into the electorate than face-to-face encounters.

After the meeting I spoke to a couple of the candidates and asked them if they would be prepared to share their views about the arts, via this magazine.  We shall see what they come up with.

13th April 2015

Greens launch manifesto

The Green Party launched their manifesto for Leicester’s elections at the Town Hall Square today.

Whilst not all their candidates were present, the Greens gathered a group for a photo opportunity.

Leicester's Green Party at their manifesto launch
Leicester’s Green Party at their manifesto launch

Standing for election for Mayor of Leicester was artist and poet Tim Grayson (whose work featured in this magazine in previous years.)

Tim Grayson is standing for Mayor of Leicester
Tim Grayson is standing for Mayor of Leicester

The Green’s manifesto devoted a whole section to Arts & Leisure. Among the points they made they wanted to encourage public art, such as busking and pop-theatre in designated areas of the city centre. They also said they would organise regular public meetings to gauge public reactions to arts and leisure initiatives. Their policies emphasised arts at the local, community level.

See also:

Our main article on Election15.

Read our coverage of the 2010 elections

Twitter

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In the run-up to 7th May,  Artsin’s editor will be posting on his Twitter account.