The Cost Of Cutting Culture: A discussion

The Cost of Cutting Culture – can a creative education close the business skills gap?

A lively and engrossing discussion formed the majority of the Lord Mayor’s Gresham College Lecture on Thursday 9th January, attended by a packed audience and a knowledgeable panel including William Russell, Lord Mayor of London, and the directors of the City of London’s key cultural institutions: Kathryn McDowell CBE, DL, MD of the London Symphony Orchestra, Lynne Williams who is Principal of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Sir Nicholas Kenyon CBE, MD of the Barbican Centre, and Sharon Ament, Director of the Museum of London.

Introduced by the Lord Mayor, he made the points that over the last twenty years the tech companies have replaced the oil and engineering firms as as the world’s largest employers, with a raft of implications for what the jobs of tomorrow will look like.

With the changing demands at work, and the threat of automation to 40% of the UK’s current jobs, creative skills are becoming more important and desirable in the workplace. The so- called “Fusion Skills” – social, analytical and creative skills – will progressively play a larger part in the job descriptions of many future UK Jobs.

The alarming situation is that there is a genuine demotion of the arts in the UK school curriculum. The arts are not represented at GCSE Level at all.

The UK’s future workplaces will need to attract the best candidates by offering creative work environments but also extensions of that out into the environment. People aspire to work and live in areas like Shoreditch, Clerkenwell and Camden, as they are seen to have a creative vibe which enriches their environments. 

Culture Mile is a move to create a similar creative hub destination, a creative partnership between The Barbican Centre, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the LSO and the Museum of London. It aims to create a thriving and intriguing cultural community which runs from Farringdon to Moorgate- the Culture Mile.

The discussion covered what businesses can do to support and drive creativity, and the role of the Culture Mile in supporting a creative society.

Each organisation outlines the way that their work has developed to encompass outreach and life-long learning opportunities in the community, with particular drive to unlock each person’s creativity. The links between culture ,commerce and finance were also discussed.

Questions from the audience included issues such as sponsorship, digital services, and the work of creating a cultural community which could call Culture Mile its home- central to this being affordable housing.

So, lots to enjoy and lots to think about for the future, in a very listenable hour.

You can watch or listen to the whole event via the link here.


TALKING AUDIENCES: An Exhibition in Bristol

For anyone who lives in or is visiting Bristol within the next few weeks, there is a very interesting exhibition at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection, one of the world’s largest archives of British theatre history. Until February 28th, the Collection hosts “Talking Audiences”, an exhibition which is the culmination of two years of archival research by Dr Kirsty Sedgman into the Bristol Old Vic as part of her British Academy postdoctoral Fellowship project.

Nearly lost in the late 1940s, when under threat of being sold off as a warehouse, the Bristol theatre was built in 1766 as the Theatre Royal, and was one of the first successes of the Arts Council of Great Britain’s remit of making great theatre available across the country. Linked to London’s Old Vic, the relationship had its stresses and strains, but the theatre thrives to this day, long after the link has fallen away.

Although the theatre’s journey was an uneven one, the exhibition traces the ups and downs of these early years intercut with audience reactions, which makes a fascinating look at how a venue interacts with those it seeks to engage with.

You can find out more information here


90th anniversary brings rare chance to tour London’s Apollo Victoria

The stunning Apollo Victoria Theatre is 90 this year, and celebrations include a rare chance to take a tour of the theatre’s foyers and auditorium. The next is on Saturday 8th February at 11.00am.

Opened as the New Victoria Theatre on 15th October 1930 , it was designed for Provincial Cinematograph Theatres(PCT) by William Edward Trent and Ernest Wamsley Lewis, seating over 2,500, this was a huge new entrant into London’s entertainment world .

The exteriors (two almost identical facades) are strongly Germanic and assume great authority on the street. The foyers and auditorium have nautical themes, with the fabulous auditorium resembling an undersea palace, filled with glass stalactites and a lavish attention to design detail. Designed to play the then-popular cine-variety (films plus short stage shows which bracketed the films), it had adequate stage and dressing room facilities for these purposes. When cinemas tailed off in popularity it was the stage facilities which saved the venue from demolition.

The cinematic legacy is a high capacity with excellent sightlines. In an extensive 2002 restoration, the auditorium was returned to its original glory with the original 3,500 auditorium lights being replaced by 88,000 LEDs, making it (as I believe) the first auditorium to be lit in this way.

The vast crowds which ebb and flow through the building at showtimes sometimes make it had to see details, so these limited-number tours are a great way to see the building without having to elbow your way through the masses.

Information from the theatre owner ATG states that “the tour lasts approximately 90 minutes. Tea, coffee and soft drinks will be offered. This tour will use routes that include steps.” Tickets are priced at £15 and can be obtained via the ATG website here.

Maybe I’ll see you there?


Read more about the theatre’s history at the Theatre trust website here

Radio: The drama behind the birth of the National Theatre

Broadcast this week on BBC Radio Four, THE NATIONAL is a fascinating listen. Written by Sarah Wooley, this three-part drama about the creation of the National Theatre on London’s South Bank features all the main players: Sir Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Tynan, Lord Goodman, The Lord Chamberlain, Peter Hall and Harold Pinter as well as many others.

You can listen to THE NATIONAL by clicking here

(Please note – users outside the UK may not be able to access BBC online programming – but give it a try anyway!)

Richmond Theatre’s 120th anniversary

Image via Richmond Theatre publicity

Last week the glorious Frank Matcham-designed Richmond Theatre turned 120 years old. On 15th September the theatre held an open day and evening celebration to mark this special occasion.

One of the finest surviving examples of the work of master theatre architect Frank Matcham, the building, externally in red brick with ornate buff terracotta is listed Grade II*. It opened on 18th September 1899, under the name Theatre Royal and Opera House, with a performance of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. The auditorium seats 840 on three levels and the ornate auditorium includes beautiful gilding, acres of red plush and luscious plasterwork.

The theatre has had some difficult times, including a period in the 1960s and 70s when it was not certain that it would survive, but thankfully common sense prevailed and the theatre has since gone from strength to strength.

Maintained in beautiful order after a major 1991 refurbishment, the theatre itself is a treat to visit, despite the rather cramped front of house areas and box office corridor; once inside the auditorium enchants you – superbly designed with excellent sight lines at all levels. For those interested, tours take place on a regular basis and can be booked through the theatre’s website here

Richmond’s luscious proscenium and curtain. Photo copyright Unrestricted Theatre.
Richmond auditorium from the stage, via ATG theatre website.