The question is always asked in a triumphalist, aha-I’ve-got-you-now sort of way. They demand “what is more important – houses (or the NHS or social Services or similar) or the arts?” They know what answer they want to hear but the answer I always give is: “We need both.” Once you have some sort of roof over your head and a crust of bread in your belly, how miserable and utilitarian your existence would be if the only challenge and inspiration that was available to you was peering at Strictly Come Ice Skating or pouring gallons of beer down your throat at some unlovely drinking factory.
The question is right there in your face if you live in Boscombe. There is a building available to the community ready to provide every sort of artistic enterprise and with a long and honourable tradition of so doing and yet the Council would prefer to build a tiny number of houses and by so doing demolish what could be a thriving hub. Yes, Boscombe does need these houses, but it also needs a cultural centre to serve the needs of the whole population. I do sympathise with the Councillors – somebody has to take these decisions and they are remorselessly driven by the need to be seen to be doing something to help Boscombe’s homeless. But in this case, to my way of thinking, they have not weighed up the situation properly.
I have visited the Bournemouth Drama Centre as it then was many times over the last forty odd years. The last time I was there I saw some extraordinary work by a local group of adults with learning disabilities. It was an act of sheer folly to close down this resource to such groups in the first place. But it is always easier to destroy than to build up and the work of forty years was swept away at a stroke. It would have taken comparatively little to keep the building open and, with the right management it could even have survived with minimal input from the council. If the council was planning to replace this resource with something else all well and good but there is no sign of that happening and it leaves the Bournemouth conurbation in the unique position of having absolutely no community arts resource. At all.
It is ironic that just this month a survey has been commissioned by Creative Dorset to try to understand how the arts function in Dorset, Poole and Bournemouth. The answer quite simply is that they survive in spite of the Councils’ lack of interest.
If closing the Bournemouth Drama Centre was an act of folly then to demolish the building itself without giving it a chance to regenerate and thereby improve the lives of those who live in the area is an act of cultural vandalism of the highest order.