Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Bloggers Breakfast at the Arts Depot

At 8am this morning I attended a bloggers breakfast at the Arts Depot. The Arts Depot had invited the local bloggers along to engage with us and explain their policies. This was useful as it clarified a few things which I've always been rather unsure about. The CEO Tracy Cooper gave us a rundown on the history of Arts Depot. She also explained how the Council was the owner, the Arts Depot were a tenant and a company called Megraj administered the parts not used by the Arts Depot.

The current hot potato is the eviction of Community Focus from Arts Depot in three months time to accomodate an organisation called London Studio Centres, who are a Dance school. Ms Cooper explained that due to council cuts in grant, the deal London Studio Centre was the only way that Arts Depot could be saved from closure. If this were to happen, then Community Focus would have been evicted anyway, so she felt it was the only way to save some of the organisation. She explained how Arts Depot had lost £450,000 in grants since 2011. She also explained how Barnet College had pulled out of the building, leaving another huge gap in funding. Furthermore, the council had failed to agree a deal for the "landmark library" in the building.

Ms Cooper also explained the cost cutting which has taken place, including slashing 1/3rd of all staff. Another issue is the small size of the theatre space (395 seats) effectively prevents any large shows from being staged at the centre.

As the council has effectively ended funding for community projects, community focus is departing and a prestigious London Dance School is moving to the building, it seems to me that the original concept of the Arts Depot is dead. The building is no longer a community space. I have no doubt that it is good for Barnet to have a prestigious dance school on its doorstep (unless you are a small independent, commercial, locally run dance school). In the same position as Ms Cooper, I would undoubtedly try and save something from the wreckage. It is good that she is seeking to engage with local bloggers to help her promote what is left of the Arts Depot. She has followed the local Police in taking a positive attitude to local leaders in social media.

Having a better understanding of the decision to evict Community Focus certainly means that this blog will be far less critical of Ms Cooper and her decision.

At the end of the day, yet again, the true cause of the problem lies with Barnet Council. Arms Length Management Organisations are all the rage in Barnet. We have Barnet Homes, Your Choice Barnet and Arts Depot all independent of the Council and all independent of local democratic control. They all have shrinking budgets and seemingly impossible constraints. Arts Depot is a classic example of what happens when hands are washed. The local people are left high and dry. Arts Depot is metamorphasising into a venue attached to a well respected Dance School. It will be great for Dancers across London and it will bring revenue into Barnet. What it won't do is improve accessibility to local arts and creativity for local people, especially those people with special needs who have been using Community Focus.

It seems to me that Arts Depot is rather like the Pantiles Pub on the North Circular Road. That fine old bulding has been transformed into a MacDonalds. Yes the building is still their with its architectural features,

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