COMMENT: How culture can cast a spell

Grimm and CoGrimm and Co
Grimm and Co
by Arts Council North director for Yorkshire & Humber, Pete Massey

POWER has always been a defining force in South Yorkshire.

The powerful machinery of the Industrial Revolution and the great railway engineers who built the Flying Scotsman.

Power generated by its rich coal fields. The power of local lad Kevin Keegan’s boot and Lesley Garrett's voice.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Now there's a new power being harnessed — the power of culture, which is helping to redefine places like Rotherham, with exciting results.

This week, we at the Arts Council - the national development agency for arts and culture - have announced details of how we plan to invest across the country over the next few years, from 2018-22, and particularly in Rotherham, to ensure more people get the opportunity to access brilliant arts and culture on their own doorstep.

And I’m pleased to be able to tell you more about how we’re planning to support arts and culture right here in your community.

One of our key aspirations in Yorkshire is to create opportunities for children and young people.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Capture a young person’s imagination and you help nurture what could be a lifelong, and life-affirming, passion for arts and culture.

Which brings me to the hugely exciting work being done by Rotherham's Grimm & Co, creating storytelling magic behind the façade of its “Apothecary to the Magical” store in the town centre, and which has led it to be chosen as one of our new national portfolio organisations for 2018-22.

It’s the kind of place we all wish had existed when we were growing up.

Spell-binding storytelling and writing workshops are unleashing the creative talents and imaginations of young people from Rotherham, Yorkshire and even further afield.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

This means that arts and culture are reaching new audiences in an area where in the past opportunities to take part have been limited.

The organisation was previously a recipient of a grant from our Catalyst: Evolve scheme, aimed at attracting more private and philanthropic income.

And its inclusion in the portfolio of our regularly-funded organisations, along with groups like The Reader in Liverpool and increased money for bodies like Sheffield's And Other Stories, underlines the fantastic strength of literature across the whole of the north.

At the same time we have increased our investment in Rotherham Open Arts Renaissance, (better known of course locally as ROAR) who along with Grimm & Co are putting creativity at the heart of regenerating Rotherham.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Engagement with art and culture can have a transformative effect on people's lives, and they also have the power to help transform our surroundings.

I remember in my previous life as director of Create in Scarborough how we harnessed the cultural and creative sector in the town to assist in its regeneration.

While the creative industries might not be able to replace traditional industries, they still have a role to play in creating new economic opportunities as well as cultural ones and they have the added benefit of improving wellbeing, fostering civic pride and send a positive message to the rest of the world about how Rotherham is changing.

In March, the Arts Council and Heritage Lottery Fund announced £1,264,000 for Rotherham (in partnership with Barnsley) under the Great Place scheme, to explore the potential of both areas and the ways in which culture can help make both places better places to live including positioning them as visitor destinations and, by encouraging tourism, create economic growth.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But that's not the only ambition we have for Yorkshire and the North of England more widely.

We are committed to developing the cultural infrastructure not simply of big cities, but also of towns, and to develop art in places people might not expect to find it.

We don’t want art and culture to seem inaccessible and “not for me”.

They are for everyone. Creativity is what adds vibrant colour to our lives, whether it's attending a festival, a school trip to a museum, kids’ activities in your local library, watching a film, or being engrossed in a good book.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Or, as I was lucky enough to do when I won a place on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square a few years ago as part of Anthony Gormley's project, One and Other, becoming part of the art yourself.

I’m delighted then that we’re able to support the creative vision for Rotherham and for Doncaster, and I’m looking forward, on my next visits, to seeing just how that vision is unfolding.