How do we get Leics to take pride in its art and culture?

claire webb, 22 June 2012

Attendees: (called by) Claire, Laura, Gemma, Janet, Phil, Mark, Tim, Matt, Suba, Aminata, Debbie, Gerry, Tali

Janet, who relocated to Leics said: Having moved here, I can see that Leics has a great arts and culture offer and a lot more to be proud of but the people who have always lived here don’t seem to know it but this is a relatively new partnership

Someone who doesn’t live in Leics said: From an outsiders point of view Leics is about The Tigers and amazing musicals @Curveleicester

Gemma (the artistic director at the everyman in Liverpool) asked: what is Leics identity?
A: strong sports culture, ethnically diverse, lots of festivals, demographic of the county being quite different from the city, Universities. We have a vibrant community and a vibrant cultural offer but the two are not coming together.

Liverpool has an inherent sense of pride in their city and heritage including arts and culture as well as sport. Why? Less ethnically diverse, Liverpool is not too dissimilar to Leics so why is it a proud community? They have a list of high profile artists, writers, musicians and actors (who are proud to come from Liverpool), the city was given a huge boost by their Capital of Culture status which entitled the city to become more culturally courageous. What also came out of this was that the cultural organisations of

Liverpool had to pull together (LARK) – before that there wasn’t a focused unity or one voice. Now still, LARK, including a member of the city council) meets every 2 weeks to consult and share and think strategically. This combined force is treated at every level of the participating venue’s hierarchy so all departments meet their equivalent departments every 2 weeks. The city council is an ally – when a large company wants to set up in Liverpool they are asked by the council to demonstrate how they will contribute to the arts in the city. They also realise the importance of growing a shrinking city – that tourism can replace industry and contribute hugely to the economy. Leics does have Performing Arts Leicester and the relatively new Cultural Partnership Board charged with leading the development of a new cultural strategy so this is a promising start.

The Everyman taps into its community’s identy to help focus its programming. They invite a representative if not all the team from each department of their theatre, from the cleaners to the creatives, to script meetings to make sure that they are choosing work that their audiences and prospective audiences can relate to.

But tension can be found in presenting work that tries to talk to all as it can alienate too. A mix of programming can hinder messaging impact. On the other hand we don’t want to just programme work that is only for certain audiences. Isn’t it the role of our theatre to integrate our audiences and work – but how? Artistic vision? Marketing and communications? Outreach? Maybe it’s all of these things and Everyman is right to include all of their colleagues in shaping their work and making sure the venue has a ‘signature.’

Curve’s signature at the moment is seen to be its musicals and yes we produce fantastic quality shows right here in the city but we do so much more! How do we get

beyond that impression? Locally produced and local artists are something that Curve is incredibly proud of and have just expanded their artistic team to progress this. But finding artists that fit comfortably into our programme is the challenge. We don’t want to ship in talent – we want to nurture it and keep it – let it be ambitious and international and successful – take the name of the city out with but come back to Leics sometimes too! Suba and Tim will be working very hard on behalf of Curve in the next few months to realise Curve’s ambition to develop our artist community and give our artists a reason to stay in Leics.

On the other hand we don’t want to be seen as parochial. Sometimes a ‘celebrity stamp of approval’ can help speak to some audiences whether that’s starring in a show or writing it.
We spoke about whether festivals create an energy and focus on a broad cultural offer – Liecs has many festivals so this one voice is diluted - maybe one big festival like in Bristol (BrisFest) which unites and showcases all the arts and culture on offer is better?

The overall consensus was that this will take time and a concerted cross organisational effort but it is possible.

Key learnings: don’t look back, create a critical mass, unity, assert our selves, strategic thinking is key, collaborate with figures of influence, listen to your audience and artists, audiences want to identify with their theatre – see themselves in the work, your work must have heart, be open about our origins, celebrate



leicester, culture, unity, musicals, ownership, identity, pride, ethnicity