Monday 13 November 2017

Barnet bid for London Borough of Culture

On Wednesday at Hendon Town Hall at 7pm, Barnet Council will be discussing a bid to become the London Borough of Culture. I have requested the opportunity to address the committee, to try and bring some common sense to the process. As we mentioned last week, the council have set up a steering committee to try and pull this together, but quite perversely have neglected to invite most of the most active organisations promoting culture.

The concept that Barnet could win on the grounds of our world class cultural venues, our libraries our museums is clearly bonkers, given that there are no venues that could compare with the Albert Hall or the Roundhouse, our sole world class museum is the RAF museum, which although brilliant, is not primarily a cultural venue in the way the V&A is. As for our libraries, given that most have had a haircut by the Tories (at the same meeting they are discussing the £7 million savings they've made) following a 50% reduction in library space and the hiving off to voluntary organisations. As for what they did to one of our prime cultural spaces, watch this

You may think I think the whole concept of the idea that Barnet Council could bid for the title is bonkers. Actually, I don't. I think Barnet could actually make a brilliant case. I think we are the Borough with the finest cultural heritage in London. But our cultural heritage, unlike Kensington and Chelsea is not fantastic Victorian Museams. Unlike Camden, it is not great music venues, established in the Hippie and Punk era's. Our cultural heritage is a twenty first century example. We have a whole army of cultural warriors, fighting to preserve our culture and history in the face of a council bent on imposing austerity on us.

No Borough in London has seen a cultural explosion like Barnet in the face of austerity and cuts in the way Barnet has. For me, this twenty first century phenomena started in 2008, when local residents started to chronicle what was happening. To me, our blogs are like Samuel Pepys diaries. They are central to The Barnet culture. They are our Samizdat media, in the face of an uncaring bureaucracy.

Then there are the people, prepared to fight to preserve our culture. When the council closed Friern Barnet library, we reopened it ourselves. First on the lawn outside, then with Occupy, back in the building. What stronger cultural statements could we make. When Church Farmhouse museum  was closed, we made films to chronicle it. Not big budget, but grassroots. Spurred by this, the community then made two 30 minute documentary films, both shown to sell out crowds at The Phoenix Cinema. National TV came to witness it. We even got BAFTA winner Ken Loach to speak on them.

Music has also been central, a packed house at The Arts Depot saw iconic 60's multi racial soul band,  The Foundations and local bands, including my band The False Dots, rock a rally against cuts and outsourcing. This was streamed live to thousands who couldn't make it. Whilst the council is incapable of streaming council meetings, we streamed the whole thing. The event was a rip roaring success.

Then we have the Bohemia, a much loved pub, shut by a failed brewery chain. We reopened it and made it a community hub, I had the honour of playing in the space. As a result of the action, it has become a massively well loved micro brewery, which hosted a music festival earlier this year.

The 'Bohemia' community, which grew out of the Bohemia centre, then engaged with the Sweets Way  and West Hendon protests. A huge upsurge in cultural awareness occurred when Russell Brand turned up for a much chronicled sleepover in Sweets Way. This was a much filmed event and there was huge media interest. Brand also featured West Hendon on his Trews project.

To me, this exemplifies what a vibrant cultural scene can achieve. Bonds and friendships are made, new forms of art and culture develop. There is a misconception that culture and art are for the rich and well off. Nothing could be further from the truth. Vincent Van Gogh was plagued with mental illness and committed suicide, unloved and unrecognised by the stale art dealers of his time. Mozart was told his music had 'too many notes'. Jazz and Blues was the music of the poor. I suspect  and downtrodden. Punk was born in squats and squalor. The Barnet Council vision is one driven by sterile corporate entities. I suspect they envision a few nice paintings and a few high brow events, maybe with a few comfy receptions for the Mayor and the great and good. I suspect the exciting and vibrant real culture of Barnet will be completely ignored.

It is up to us to make sure the real culture of Barnet is property represented.

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