Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none…

Until this musical year (because my health has become both a priority and a burden), on one Tuesday each month – and throughout that long day – you would have found me sat in Stratford ArtsHouse, behind the Orchestra of the Swan’s remarkable cello and double-bass sections, laptop or iPad (and keyboard) on my lap, basking in the splendour of their talent and sound: as they rehearsed for that evening’s concert; whilst I started to make notes for my ensuing review (despite frequent, extended drifts of concentration: when either those notes would be left untouched; or the score I was following would be left unturned).

Here was a refuge – and of the most glorious and comforting kind – away from the daily tribulations and devastations of disability. Here, my increasing deafness no longer mattered; nor my Asperger’s. I was amongst friends – people (impressively gifted ones, at that) who would not judge me, but would treat me as their equal (which I am not) – absorbed in some of the greatest creations (instruments and music) that humanity has managed to conjure up.

Truly magical things thus – currently – happen regularly and frequently in that hallowed building: so you have to wonder why (when it also houses the orchestra’s offices) Stratford-upon-Avon Town Trust – vaunting of their “support [of] local good causes and community projects”, as well as how they “improve the quality of life for residents”, particularly disadvantaged ones… – seems so keen on closing it: that is, not so much being “at the heart of our community”, as they claim, as ripping that vital organ out violently: flaunting it rapaciously to those who would witness such an execution, heads in hands, as the beats of creative life faded away….

Their decision to shut the venue’s doors, as well, before the arts and entertainment season concludes (see below), only confirms this. Those in charge at the Trust have the emotional intelligence, it seems, of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal: not realizing that the orchestra (as well as those many others who weave their wonders upon its stage and beautiful flooring) benefits many, many more than those who simply attend its awe-inspiring concerts… – although these alone reach many hundreds, if not thousands, of people each year, all over the world (many of those no doubt now signing the sadly-necessary petition to save the ArtsHouse (see top right)): especially through their estimable projects “in primary, secondary & SEND schools, in further & higher education, for families and in the community caring for those with dementia”; never mind through their sensational recordings; immersive YouTube channel; and frequent, highly-enjoyable radio appearances.

OOTS encapsulates all that is high-quality, imaginative, and creative about Stratford-upon-Avon; and we are so very fortunate that they have been based here for the last twenty-one years. To have them living under the shadow of what is beginning to feel like a death sentence, is devastating, emotionally wrenching, and certainly completely undeserved. (Perhaps the orchestra is supposed to move here? And this knee-jerk, negligent course of action is the Town Trust’s idea of a gentle nudge…?)

I have long suspected that the directors of the Trust are in it, though, exclusively, for two simple things: prestige and profit. Despite being based (since 1553, by Jove!) in one of the cultural capitals of England (if not the world) – one with a raft of Shakespearean properties and connections; the RSC and its three great theatres; thriving amateur arts groups; and, of course, one of the nation’s (if not the world’s) greatest chamber orchestras… – they somehow manage to come across as socially and culturally unaware (I was going to write “inept”); their corporate ears made from the poorest quality tin.

Their statement on this issue (as with their purported ‘vision’: which still, at the time of writing, ironically trumpets their refurbishment of the ArtsHouse) manages, therefore, to have as much import, elucidation, and value as one of Theresa ‘Maybot’ May’s vacuous statements on Brexit (which, of course, “means Brexit”). It is, as a wiser man than I once wrote, “full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing”. All that comes across is (to cynical little me, anyway) an intimation of undeserved shock at being criticized, yet again, for not realizing the deserved negativity that such a blinkered, entitled, high-and-mighty decision would provoke.

Even in a town where such arrogance is more contagious than influenza; where politics appears to be of the sort Mussolini might recognize and approve; where the rightest of right-wing rulers and wrongest of property developers must rub up uncomfortably against the socialist brigades of accomplished actors, marvellous musicians, adept artists, peerless poets, playwrights and prosateurs; the Town Trust has somehow managed, from where I stand, to adsorb the redolent reek of the dung-heap’s heady zenith: ostensibly coagulating their haughty, toffee-nosed attitudes to fetid perfection.

Not only does arts and culture have a positive impact on the lives of individuals who participate, but it demonstrates how far public investment in the arts goes to stimulate growth in the creative industries – be that film, video games or architecture.
John Glen, (then) Arts Minister

A little economic factoid, here (taken from the ArtsProfessional article which contains the above statement):

Arts and culture contribute £11.8bn to [the] UK economy.

Not only that, but “the Government recoups £5 for every £1 of culture funding and the sector created 363,000 jobs in 2015”. Therefore, rather than just getting rid of something that they appear to have become somewhat bored with, after a couple of years or so, because it hasn’t yet reaped them an infinite flow of hefty receipts; perhaps the Trust should stop acting like a small child with the attention and energy spans of an arthritic mayfly, and actually invest more money (and effort, of course) in the ArtsHouse; as well as actively helping its management make it even more of a success… – for the community, of course, to benefit from.

Shutting it, or selling it to the highest bidder, brings no advantages to the majority of the population of South Warwickshire at all. We don’t need another posh hotel; retail emporium (not one with a “-bird” suffix, especially); block of flats (not even affordable ones – not in this location, anyway); nursing home; casino; cinema; restaurant; or drive-through delicatessen. What we need is the creative culture Stratford-upon-Avon is rightfully known for and proud of. And which, ahem, it already has. What we certainly don’t need is for that culture to be emasculated on the badly-constructed altar of poorly-considered money-making, proffered public gibberish, or personal gain.

There surely must have been an economic rationale for the Civic Hall’s £1.8m transformation into Stratford ArtsHouse. (Wasn’t there?) Just because the Trust has lost sight of what that was (or perhaps this sudden demise was planned all along?) – or isn’t capable of making it a reality on its own – doesn’t mean that its consequences should be piled on others’ weaker shoulders.

Which leads me to ask… so why did the Town Trust choose the precise date of 5 May 2018 to close the ArtsHouse? Was it spite (“We didn’t have the luxury of entertainment in the War, you know: so I don’t think the plebeians of Stratford should, either!”); or was it stupidity (“What do you mean – the ‘season’ isn’t over? Don’t be silly: only plants and flowers – oh, and fashion, of course – have seasons…!”)? And it’s not just OOTS that has events booked there (including one well on its way to being sold-out), after this date…. So perhaps, after all, it was simply savagery.

It’s not like the Trust has a shiny sterling silver reputation with the population it serves, either, is it? It almost makes you wonder if they deliberately go out of their way to be difficult, disagreeable, and deaf to public opinion; that they truly wish to be seen as the Vogons of starship Stratford. At least they would have read us all some poetry, first….

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