Community is the Arbiter of Change. Assumption is the Mother of all Fuck-Ups.

It’s interesting (read: fucking mental) times we live in. Everything we have taken for granted for decades has turned on its head. Several times in fact. No wonder we all feel a bit queasy and are starting to cling onto each other for support. Money is tight, mistrust is high, perceptions are poor and everywhere we turn, hands are tied and backs are turned. The only thing that regular people have going for us lately is our desire to DO SOMETHING. So we do…

More than ever groups of people are coming together to fill breaches – whether it be childcare, food banks, support groups for like-minded people, co-operative working opportunities or, like Art on the Street, a desire to support our friends, the arts and our home town. It’s become a time where sitting back and waiting is no longer an option.

Last night I attended a cabinet meeting as a public observer. A proposal to turn an underused public space into an arts centre was being tabled. You might think that I’d be throwing myself 100% behind any proposals to invest in the arts, but you’d be wrong. I can see the bigger picture:

  • The proposed public space already contains a theatre and cafe. It sits in the town hall. It’s not well-marketed and could do with a spit and polish, but it’s a good, well-priced community facility and that’s what it’s used for. There is plenty of available space that could be utilised with minimal cost.
  • We already have a local authority funded arts centre in Maidenhead. It’s not in the centre, but it’s well-used and having come through a period of struggle is beginning to understand its pains and its place.

But the duplication of facilities or the cost of the proposal isn’t what is boiling my piss. It’s the WAY in which its being tabled: as part of the ‘arts regeneration of the town centre’.

The arts are exciting. They are the initiator of change, the trigger for a wider understanding of the world, the fountainhead of pleasure and have the power to create a sense of co-operation, community and joy. I can’t say that Art on the Street ticks every one of these boxes, but it sure as hell tries. And the one thing it is not is passive. People in their thousands visit – every one for a different reason – but the fact remains: they come for the joy of an arts event, created by the community, for the community. Within the space of a day people learn, talk, create relationships, sing, dance, laugh and leave exhausted, full of new ideas, new friends and a sense that something really special has happened.

This proposed second arts centre, no matter how deep in the heart of the town centre it is, is wholesale ignoring the wider world. Its is estimated to cost around two million pounds (although I would say thats a very conservative estimate, excuse the pun) It is presented as a facility and assumes an incredible amount about the people it should appeal to. There is no mention of education, outreach or extended working areas. No consideration of how it could go further to positively impact the town around it. If built, it will sit alone, assuming that the world will revolve around it. It is a spectacle. A gilded cage. In our town centre this is not enough. Join the dots.

The community has been propping itself up for long enough and we want something that is truly ours. Do not give us a heartless facility that costs more than it can deliver. Allow us to talk about the future use of this space. But most importantly, LISTEN.

We are the artists, educators, families, students, fundraisers, entrepreneurs, champions and feisty little fuckers that are driving the new arts agenda for this town and in turn, changing the way we talk about our community.

We are not endusers.

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