What do you think ‘culture’ means and involves?
Does the current mainstream cultural offer in Croydon
reflect the interests of the majority of residents?
Do so-called ‘hard to reach’ audiences really exist?
Can the 2023 programme outline ensure that
events take place in every neighbourhood?
These are some of the questions examined in my discussion paper on Croydon being Borough of Culture in 2023.
Debate Postponed By COVID-19 Crisis
The last meeting of the Network on 25 February discussed the framework of the bid that was awarded Borough of Culture status. Two meetings were planned for March and April but have not taken place because of the COVID-19 crisis.
The meeting raised a number important issues and concerns about the overall aims of being Borough of Culture, as well as practical considerations about implementation.
There are several tensions and contradictions within the proposals that clearly could not be ironed out at the time the bid was submitted to the Mayor of London. Nor could the bid reflect the wider Borough and Council context with continual changes in strategies and policies, and the problems of funding.
These issues prompted me to write the discussion paper.
The lockdown does not mean that debate cannot take place. Many people involved in the Network will have more time to think about it as their events have been cancelled. Debate can take place by email, telephone, Skype, Zoom, etc.
The Discussion Paper
The paper takes into account aspects of the development of cultural policy and activities in recent years, of Croydon’s history, and draws on my own involvements and previous experiences.
It examines the changes in Council policy towards culture under both the pre-2014 Conservative and since then under the Labour administration. This is followed by a discussion about the importance of Croydon’s cultural activists, and how much of the vibrant offer in recent years has been initiated by them.
The next section reviews issues around ‘what we mean by culture’, and culture and class. I suggest that culture is must broader and experienced in a myriad of ways every day of our waking lives. Different individuals and groups of people experience culture in different ways beyond the narrow scope of music, song, dance, drawing and painting. The economic and social realities of the diverse communities of all types in Croydon influences how people experience culture.
The bid puts a focus on trying to ensure that every neighbourhood in the Borough is involved. I discuss that focus and suggest that the measures outlined so far need to be re-thought to ensure that there is real involvement at neighbourhood level, to ensure that every neighbourhood generates projects local people are interested in, and not have them imposed. This will require a re-think of the operation of the Impact Fund designed to find project proposals, linked to the neighbourhood devolution measures the Council has been working to introduce.
There needs to be a great deal more discussion of the potential audiences and participants for events in 2023. The concept of ‘hard to reach’ audiences is patronising and a misunderstanding about the interests, aspiration and social and economic realities facing a large percentage of residents.
The next four sections stress the relevance of local history, Croydon’s rich musical heritage down the centuries, Croydon writers and artists, and the relevance of environment and green history.
I then examine the use of different types of cultural output including badges and banners, coins and stamps, advertising, design of the things we use and travel in, and bees and fairies.
I suggest that a very careful view has to be taken about the way in which schools are involved, to prevent the danger of schools like the Whifgift and BRIT with their culturally rich programmes and capability of raising funds, receiving Council funding at the expense of the majority of schools.
The final two sections discuss the problems of communication with the danger of over reliance on the Internet and social media to promote what the 2023 programme, and the important roles of a range of venues and how they can contribute. The final section looks at what the 25 February meeting was told was a need for ‘system change’ and other Issues, in which I examine the problems involved in the new changes to Council Governance and the threat of an elected Mayor.
The discussion paper is supported by three appendices:
- An approach to activity about the environment and nature
- Books relevant to Croydon
The discussion paper (inc. the first appendix) can be downloaded here:
The 2nd and 3rd appendices can be downloaded here:
The Council bid document can be downloaded here:
Next Steps for Debate
I have asked Paula Murray, the Council’s Director of Culture to circulate the paper to the Culture Network elist. Whether this will happen will depend on whether or not she and her staff are still able to work on cultural issues or whether they have been switched to work on the Council’s COVID-19 actions.
I have emailed the paper to many individuals I know are involved in the broad range of cultural activities.
If you are in organisations and groups that may wish to take part in the 2023 programme, please let your members know.
The more people we can involve in the debate on 2023 over the next couple of years the more likely we are to have a rich programme built from below at neighbourhood and social group level, within which specialist culture organisations and activists can ensure that that their offer is delivered at neighbourhood level, as well as Borough wide showcase activities which will be mainly based in the Town Centre.
Please put your comments on 2023 in the reply section of this blog posting or send them to me at email@example.com
This pamphlet was published under my publishing imprint History & Social Action Publications for the 2012 Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Festival, with the SC-T Network which I co-ordinate.
Having sold out it was reprinted last year. Further details of this and other publications cited in the discussion paper see:
In the discussion paper I recommend that the book The Conspiracy of Good Taste by Croydon based artist and historian Stefan Szczelkun should be read – see