Recently we have spent a lot of time worrying about a new Arts centre for Swanage. We desperately need a small performance space where people like me can harangue small captive audiences with our poetry, or where a string quartet could rehearse. We need some decent exhibition space, we need workrooms for electronic and other artists. When it opens, I shall be first in line for the champagne reception. But who builds it, has their name on the front, or where the funding comes from, I don’t care very much. Or even if it doesn’t get built at all, come to that. In fact the likelihood of it not being built is as predictable as winter following autumn. So why worry?
What happened to the original idea of Strata as an arts Centre without a building? The most important function of an organisation like ours is to help artists to produce art. To encourage and develop festivals and events. To help people discover their own creativity. To tap into those funding streams for the arts that the town has been missing out on. Yes, most towns do those things from a building or an institution. But we have no such building based organisation or institution with a brief to develop the arts. Our district and town councils see no value in the arts. And, any way, there are plenty of examples of arts buildings which have cost so much that there is nothing left to fund a programme inside. There are even buildings where the management committees have to put all their efforts into keeping the fabric together leaving no time to put a programme at all. It requires us, the artists of Purbeck and Swanage, to be more imaginative. We have to make use of the churches and halls and pub back rooms that are here. We must be bold and creative. We must develop our bona fides with the funding bodies by producing paintings, music, performances of such quality and innovation that we have the honest citizens town out on the streets with placards demanding that somebody builds a building to put it in.
Until then... let’s just think about what we do best... making art.