The final discussion in this season hosted by The Lord Mayor of the City of London and the Genesis Foundation is the sixth Cultural Conversation, focusing on the economic value of culture and the arts and it power to aid our ailing economy. The New Future: Art and Culture in the Making of a Vibrant Economy took place online on Monday 20 September, with a live and virtual audience contributing to the Q&A section at the end of the discussion. And what a praiseworthy and interesting talk it was, with great audience interaction in the Q&A too.
The Cultural Conversations series has been a sequence of focused debates around Arts and Culture in the City of London, and are always worth watching. This sixth conversation was chaired by Will Gompertz, in conversation with Alderman William Russell, John Studzinski CBE, our Founder and Chairman, Kully Thiarai, Creative Director, Leeds 2023, Claire McColgan MBE, Director of Culture, Liverpool City Council and Nina Skero, Chief Executive, Centre for Economic and Business Research.
A further series of Cultural Conversations is scheduled for next year.
As an audience member, it’s often a challenge in London finding a great restaurant near enough to your theatre to be able to enjoy a meal without too much stress about timings.
Perhaps you, like me, have previously had a skin-of your-teeth pre-theatre meal that arrived too late or too cold, leaving you frantically trying to get your bill paid and ending up running to the theatre, leaving you with indigestion that lasts through the first half of your show. Not a good start to your expensive evening of relaxation! Perhaps like you, I vowed never to have this happen to me again- and since 2012 it never has. Let mel share with you my secret.
Having worked in the theatre business for 35 years, I have many people calling me and asking about good pre-theatre restaurants- and how to get into them. I have also organised many hundreds of meals on behalf of clients, individuals and theatre groups. Since their opening in 2011, CÔTE St Martin’s Lane has been the TheatreLand restaurant that I have recommended exclusively, and they have never let me – or my many guests – down.
Pre-theatre dining is a fine art in itself, and the highly-experienced CÔTE St Martin’s Lane team have it down to a tee. Being at the heart of Theatreland, just a few steps away from The Coliseum (currently with HAIRSPRAY), the Noel Coward (currently with 2.22), the Duke of Yorks (currently closed), Wyndham’s (shortly to reopen with LEOPOLDSTRADT), the Garrick (currently with BILLIONAIRE BOY) and the Cambridge (reopening September 16th with MATILDA).
Anyone going to any of these shows will find CÔTE within easy walking distance, and another bonus is that the restaurant is just two minutes from Leicester Square tube station.
CÔTE is a warm and welcoming French bistro with a monthly-changing menu of specials and fixed price menus which are renowned for their quality and excellent value. That’s before we talk about the buzzy atmosphere which adds to a great night out, and the warmth of the gold-leafed and mirrored walls, with an authentic French feel of attractively tiled floors and dark wood furniture which exudes simple sophistication. You can relax at CÔTE, knowing everything’s taken care of.
I well remember chatting to a couple of gentlemen who used to dine at a very fancy French restaurant before finding out that their favourite wine was at CÔTE for half the price they were paying previously. Lured by the wine, they grew to enjoy the service, attention to detail and quality of the food at CÔTE, and, like many others we have encountered, have since become regular visitors.
Regular customers are, along with word-of-mouth recommendations, the lifeblood of restaurants, and CÔTE is the recipient of much customer loyalty. When the restaurant recently reopened after a period of closure, the place was fully booked from opening until closing – mostly, I am told, by their regulars celebrating their return. Including me!
Theatregoers love its proximity to their theatres, and you can always rely on the staff being up to date with theatre information, as they take a keen interest in the theatres and the shows around them, keeping up to date with shows opening and closing, special events – whatever may affect their footfall. Every one of the team, from the management to floor team to kitchen team are exemplary at what they do.
There is another theatrical connection that CÔTE St Martin’s Lane enjoys. Apart from the huge number of theatregoers, a good number of creative theatre people including producers (both established and emerging) can be seen here, whether with guests pre-theatre or enjoying a leisurely lunch meeting to discuss new production and collaboration plans.
Since they reopened , CÔTE has acquired outside dining space due to the lower part of St Martin’s Lane being pedestrianised, which makes the street very attractive for an al fresco meal rendezvous. This is thanks to the hard work of local businesses and placemakers like Placemaking London’s brilliant Daniel Johnson who have encouraged Westminster Council’s initiative which will be in place until at least next year, and hopefully will be made permanent after that.
If you are reassured by seeing safety and sensible health procedures, you’ll be glad to hear that CÔTE has thoughtfully managed safety procedures to put diners at our ease with hand sanitiser gel generously sited around the restaurant for your use.
So if you’re looking for a pre-theatre restaurant with the warmest welcome in London, the best service, scrupulously clean environment, and fabulous food at brilliant prices, you’ll want to book CÔTE St Martin’s Lane to guarantee your perfect pre-show meal.
Have a wonderful time!
CÔTE Brasserie, 50, St Martin’s Lane , London WC2N 4EA
Those concerned for the future of the nation’s historic high street buildings were treated to a lively and informative online presentation from Heritage Trust Network and Locality on July 1st.
Can historic buildings save England’s High Streets?
In a lively discussion, expert panelists discussed the potential new uses of historic high street premises and the role of culture in town centres’ revival.
Speakers were David Tittle – CEO of Heritage Trust Network, Owain Lloyd-James – Head of Places Strategy, Historic England, Carol Pyrah – Executive Director, Historic Coventry Trust, Joe Holyoak – Trustee, Moseley Road Baths, Diane Dever – Chair, Urban Rooms Network and Claire Appleby – Architecture Advisor, Theatres Trust.
The mainly heritage-based audience were treated to much impressive factual information from regeneration projects around the UK, together with practical steps and advice when furthering their own high street heritage projects.
The discussion put the High Street in context, starting as a community focus, then often rebuilt to become more retail-focused, and now as retail is on the decline, accelerated by Covid, towns need to find new creative offers to encourage people back to their High Streets.
Owain Lloyd-James of Heritage England reminded us that High Streets are areas of greater footfall, which is why so many theatres, cinemas and other cultural buildings are on them or very nearby. He also noted that retailers were waking up to the idea that they had to offer “something extra” for people to visit High Street stores. This new form, dubbed “experiential retail”, has prompted awareness amongst retailers that historic and heritage buildings can add something special to a shopping trip. This has fueled an increasing amount of interest in repurposing older buildings to create stores with character and interest, as opposed to the bland Lego boxes that infect most of our Hugh Streets today.
Carol Pyrah of Historic Coventry Trust told us about the successes achieved by her group including participating in City of Culture this year, and how they have positively shifted visitors expectations of the appeal of the city through their many placemaking and arts-based projects.
Joe Holyoak, a Trustee of Moseley Road Baths, told us of this historic building’s impressive plan for renovation and renaissance as an arts centre and studios. He also, helpfully, reminded us that the word “monument” stems from the word for memory. And finally, he reached back through time to remind us that buildings which survive down the ages have often been called “persistent” buildings, which seemed a very apt title; and he celebrated not only the persistent buildings but also the persistent people who help to bring them back into life.
Diane Dever discussed the projects arising from the Urban Rooms project in Folkestone. Sadly, for me, her presentation slides were so dense that they became unreadable and undermined the detail of what she was trying to tell us. It was, however, heartening to see Folkestone’s creative quarter emerging, and to hear that the income from shop and flat rentals in the area were helping to fund creative events.
For me, the best was saved till last, as Claire Appleby of the Theatres Trust brought out the convincers – the financial figures. As well, Claire underlined the architectural importance of theatres, their memory-link to the local communities around them, and the wide social benefits of theatres and the activities that can be housed within them. Also highlighted was the flexibility with which theatre companies had lead the way in Covid help, being outreach workers, community hubs, food banks, vaccination centres, and so much more- theatres really showed their value to their communities.
An Arts Council of England survey found that theatres were highly valued, with respondents stating that they were willing to pay £13 a year per person to retain their local theatre.
Theatres’ effects on the local economy were great, with people coming into the area to see a show and usually spending more while they were in the locality. In the last, non-Covid year of research, UK Theatre found there were 34 million visits to theatres across the UK bringing a value of over £1.38 billion, that figure without the extra benefits of restaurants, bars, hotels, etc.
As mentioned on this blog, another survey found that theatre’s wellbeing impacts on audiences contributed to a saving of over £102million to the NHS annually, with 60% of theatregoers more likely to report good health than non-theatregoers.
Finally, Claire quoted a number of recent or nearly-completed projects, with Chester’s Storyhouse (a redevelopment of their old Odeon cinema) bringing a million visitors in their last year. Bradford’s newly refurbished ex-Odeon cinema is projected to bring over a quarter of a million visitors in the first year, with a projected boost to the local economy of £10million. The newly-refurbished Globe Theatre in Stockton-on-Tees projects 170,000 visitors in their first year, bringing an £18million boost to the local economy. (And just another example from my own experience- Walthamstow’s refurbishment of their Granada cinema into a mixed-use theatre space is projected to bring over £100million into the local economy over its first ten years of operation.)
A lively Q&A followed, and the event was brought to a close by David Tittle. Thanks to everyone involved for a highly informative, positive and optimistic view of heritage buildings’ futures on our High Streets.
Watch a recording of the event, which you can find here
Gary Donaldson, Unrestricted Theatre’s founder, responds to Mark Sands’ question: Is Theatre Worth It?
Reading Mark Sands’ VIEWS article for Unrestricted Theatre posted on May 9th, “Is Theatre Worth It?”, I was intrigued by the huge scale of his question. There are so many ways of responding, but I will “dive in” by tackling it firstly from a financial perspective.
As Mark mentioned, his journey to and from the venue, and time around the actual performance gave rise to a number of financial transactions (train, drink, food, etc) that multiplied the financial cost of his “night out” and benefitted a number of associated businesses. This is true for all of us, whether visiting a “room above a pub” theatre or the National Theatre, we may well spend more (often much more) than the ticket price of the event.
So can we actually figure out what this means to the wider economy? A detailed study carried out for NewcastleGateshead Cultural Venues ((NewcastleGateshead Cultural Venues Economic Impact Assessment 2010-11, ERS (February 2012)) evidenced that
“for every £1 of public subsidy invested in NGCV, an estimated £4.27 return on investment is generated across the North East economy”.
This bears out the findings of earlier research conducted in the 1980s, commissioned by my late colleague Anthony Field who spent 27 years as Finance Director of the Arts Council (from 1957 to 1983), which found that:
“for every £1million of public subsidy in the arts and cultural scene the Treasury received back some £3million. These returns come from VAT on the sale of tickets, taxes levied on producing companies, performing artists, technicians and musicians, the returns from those who make up their audiences and the benefits derived from all the accompanying trades such as hotels and transport.”
So here we have solid proof that our local economies are boosted wherever the arts are present. This, therefore, makes the arts potentially more important in times of economic turbulence. One of the unforeseen benefits of the 2008/9 UK financial crisis has been that, in some senses, the arts have been taken back by younger people. By that, I mean that artists, no longer willing to play by the strict confines of the established order, are taking it into their own hands to produce and present theatre. As an example, the very talented actors who form a majority of the Front Of House staff at the Old Vic Theatre, encouraged by their enthusiastic Artistic Director Matthew Warchus, have created their own company, called 1881, and are putting on shows, learning as they go along and putting their learning into practice by creating the very opportunities which were previously unavailable to them. The 2012 London Olympics also acted as a catalyst for much creative work which was partly unfunded and therefore almost totally reliant on voluntary contributions. Again, artists contributed for the greater good and in doing so created new opportunities for experience and learning.
In another huge shift in our technological landscape, the recent explosion in accessible media (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and many smaller platforms) have in a way democratised media opportunity. It was interesting to note a very detailed study done by Jane Deitch for Stage UK about UK drama graduate destinations, which highlighted the fact that a growing proportion of graduates are taking unpaid work which is shared via Youtube or similar sites, as ways of getting their CV off the ground, and being seen. A parallel rapid expansion in crowdfunding platforms has meant that anyone can now get involved in supporting a project to achieve a degree of development, with the benefits more broadly defined as perhaps an exchange, or indeed a more altruistic approach in just knowing that you have supported “your” pet projects. So the benefits, the “worth it”s, are many and multi-directional for audiences, supporters, artists and venues. And they are growing every day.
It is also worth remembering what is not always apparent to us in the very selective approach of the big media groups. We have a proliferation of sports TV and web channels and print outlets in the UK, yet the absolute fact remains that more people attend events in the arts and entertainment in any one week than attend sports events in the same period. So once again, it’s official, the arts are bigger than sport, OK? Interesting when we see blanket coverage of Wimbledon and the World Cup and Euro football, rapidly followed by the next Olympics. Where is all the arts coverage to feed the needs of those who want it? Sky Arts. Is that all there is, people?
So we have examined the financial side, now what are the wider benefits of theatre? Focussing on theatrical productions, let us first examine “benefits” from the audience’s point of view. Buying a theatre ticket is a financial investment in the community arts provision, whether this is subsidised or not. It may also boost business for hotels, restaurants, and public, private and hire transport. Furthermore, theatre can be seen as a social event, often meeting with others to go in a group, or celebrating a special event such as a birthday or anniversary. The fact that a communal experience is being played out can also mean the opportunity to participate in a shared experience and a feeling of community, albeit fleeting, which can reinforce the fabric of social bonds. Businesses often use theatre as a teambuilding event, prestige enhancer or company perk, with proven value (or else it would not happen as often as it does!). Attendance at a venue may give marketing opportunities for exposure to other future events (via flyers, emails etc) in order to grow a future audience. It is good to see marketers learning from other types of organisation, by conducting audience surveys and linking purchases along the line of “if you liked that, you may like this”.
The benefits to the talents who write, produce, direct, act, play and sing are many. As well as to the performers, also for the lighting and sound teams, the stage hands and so many others upon whom the success of the performance may depend in some part. For all these people there may be the chance to earn money, as well as the vital opportunity to learn from the experience of practising their chosen craft. Not to mention the chance to engage with other artists in a communal way which may benefit them in a number of ways, including reinforcing their self-belief and resilience. The chance to be seen and evaluated by audiences, whether they be general public, friends and family, critics or agents is one which can reap many positive -if unquantifiable -benefits.
The arts significantly contribute to the texture and quality of life in ways that no other activities can. The arts can entertain and enlighten us, and in doing so have the ability to provoke every possible reaction from simple joy to thoughtful solemnity to outrage. They can stimulate us to thought, change our mindset, argue important points, shine a light on subjects otherwise thought untouchable, and generally promote a sense of being alive, of being involved in a society of people actively participating in life in all its richness and complexity.
So the bottom lines are these: the arts can pay back four times (or more) what they cost, and more people go to experience the arts each and every week than go to all sports. They also significantly contribute to the quality of life of the nation. The arts aren’t a luxury; they’re a necessity.