It seems that at least once a week I discover some new community centre project in the UK, providing vibrancy and culture to local communities. A recent article in the Guardian proposes a transformation of cultural organisations into “vital, cherished hubs of their local community, making their disappearances unthinkable.” Many centres are already hives of activity including classes and workshops at the Battersea Arts Centre and the Albany’s commitment to open its doors to the people of southeast London.
Outside of London, however, the funding climate is harsher. Annabel Turpin of the ARC in Stockton insists that “arts have a much bigger part to play in the lives of local people.” She plans to open up her organisation as much as possible to the community, “giving people permission to come in and use the building.” Her centre provides activities for young, old and every demographic in between. In a similar vein, mac Birmingham boasts high levels of local engagement. Its multi-art form centre allows for a wide range of activities.
A key asset of cultural community centres is obviously their space. This is recognised by Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff and Farnham Maltings in Surrey. The director of the latter, Gavin Stride, said, “For us to thrive – to be truly popular – we need to become relevant to more people and improve our usefulness.”
As public space shrinks, art centres remain some of the only places that can be enjoyed without necessarily having to buy anything, a fact many people are not aware. Some centres are actively handing ownership over to local people, such as Contact, Manchester where a group of young people from the area play a key role in how the venue is run. This allows for a greater interactive conversation with the audience as their voices are increasingly being represented in the arts organisation’s decision making structures.
These anecdotes are a sample of some of the exciting new ways in which local communities are coming together to produce and enjoy the arts. Here’s hoping that these centres remain vibrant, become sustainable and stand as examples for other communities.