Wednesday 8 November 2017

Barnet - London Borough of Art and Culture

Barnet Council is considering a bid to become the London Borough of Art and Culture in 2021/22. Next Wednesday, this proposal is being debated at the Barnet Children, Education, Libraries and Safeguarding Committee under the chairmanship of Councillor Reuben Thompstone.

To try and pull this proposal together, apparently a workshop was held earlier this year. The report states

"As a first step, a workshop was held in July, co-hosted by the council,Middlesex University and artsdepot. The workshop was held at Middlesex 112 University campus and facilitated by an external, independent facilitator. The three lead organisations compiled an invitation list, based on known contacts and organisations working in the borough. Invitations were sent to over 100 individuals and organisations of which around 40 attended on the day."

I was fascinated to read this news. Whilst most readers of this blog know me for blogging, my main job is running Mill Hill Music Complex, which is North West London's leading independent music hub. We have over 1,000 musicians a week visiting us. We have 18 studios and music recorded at our studios has reached a global worldwide audience estimated at 1.5 billion people. I have suppleied services to Barnet Council and Barnet Homes, as well as community groups such as Community Focus, Mind Barnet and various other local charities and groups.

Our business sponsors the Mill Hill Music Festival and The North Finchley Festival. I am on the organising committee of the Mill Hill Music Festival and the planning group of the North Finchley festival. Despite all of this, I am not one of the 100 individuals and organisations invited.

So you may ask, who are the cultural and artistic organisations who were invited? Well some are listed in the papers

"Arts and Culture is also one of the five themes agreed by the Barnet Partnership, a partnership chaired by the Leader of the Council, comprising of  Barnet Clinical Commissioning Group, CommUNITY Barnet, Barnet and Southgate College, Middlesex University, Brent Cross shopping centre, Metropolitan Police, Job Centre Plus, Groundwork London, Federation of Small Businesses, West London Business, Argent Related and Saracens"

Words fail me. Now I am quite sure some of these groups are worthy in their field, but it seems that the list provided has a complete lack of the organisations which promote art and culture as their primary business. Is there any surprise, given that the chair of this committee is Councillor Reuben Thompstone, who is best known for decimating the Councils library service.  I am not alone in despairing at the role of Middlesex University in the Church Farmhouse closure and cannot see how this debacle bodes well for their rile as leaders in the cultural regeneration of Barnet.  As for the Council,  Many locals will not have forgotten the ridiculous lengths the Council went to in their battle to shut Friern Barnet Library, which ended after a High Court battle.  What Brent Cross Shopping centre has to do with Culture in Barnet is a mystery to me. It is a marvellosu shopping centre and brilliant at what it does, but what its core business does is nothing to do with culture.

Here's a short film I made on the day Barnet Council shut Church Farmhouse. This venue was the epitome of local grassroots culture.

I have written as follows to the relevant official to address the committee
To Salar Rida, Barnet Council

I would like to exercise my constitutional right to address the 

Children, Education, Libraries & Safeguarding Committee  on Wednesday 15th November, 2017 7.00 pm

As the owner of Mill Hill Music Complex, North West London's leading music hub and a member of the Mill Hill Music Festival Organising committee and the North Finchley Music Festival, producer of two films about Barnet and the author of the leading local blog I would like to address the committee on the subject of the proposed bid to become the London Borough of Culture, as described in the papers.

I am concerned that this proposal is not being lead by local individuals and organisations with any background in local arts and culture

Roger Tichborne

The London Borough of Barnet has a rich tradition of local festivals, arts and music history. Sadly under the current Conservative administration, this has faced a constant attack. Examples of this have been the closure of Church Farmhouse Museum, the massive downsizing of local libraries, the removal of library provision for young people, the failure to develop a policy of protection of key venues and events, resulting in the closure of many local music and arts venues such as The Torrington, the loss of key festivals such as The Watling Festival and Finchley Carnival (Mill Hill Music Complex was a sponsor of these festivals). Other neighbouring boroughs, such as Camden and Brent have a far more supportive council allowing venues such as The Tricycle Theatre to thrive. Camden has become a world famous music hub, with the Roundhouse as the key venue. Whilst Barnet had the opportunity to thrive, with the development of the Arts Depot, the Council has shown no interest at all in backing this excellent venue. New developments such as that on the Mill Hill Inglis Barracks site have zero cultural provision. The nearest potential music venue, The Railway Engineer pub, which was formerly a popular music venue as part of the Mill Hill Music Festival has been redeveloped.

It seems that, as usual, Barnet is only interested in dealing with large corporate entities. The council papers set out a vision, which as a musician, writer and film producer seem to me to be the antithesis of what a cultural vision should be

(As written by Barnet Council)
Our Vision
Barnet is a fast growing London borough with a rich cultural heritage and history. Ambitious regeneration plans and locally led investment in housing, skills and economic development are seeing new communities develop and prosper. Our vision for the development of arts and culture as the borough grows is for ‘a creative borough with a vibrant, innovative, inclusive and ambitious arts and culture offer that celebrates our heritage and will make Barnet the best place to live, visit, work and do business in’.

The hypocrisy in this is sickening. How can they talk about our "rich cultural heritage" when they closed our beloved Church Farmhouse Museum? What on earth have "ambitious regeneration plans" got to do with a vision for culture and heritage?

Two years ago, I set up the Save London Music Campaign as a direct response to the closure of six music venues in Mill Hill. A couple of weeks ago, I published a list of ten lost entertainment venues in the Borough.  There was huge interest and it is now the ninth most popular blog out of more than 5,000 blogs.

I thought I'd have a stab at writing my own vision at writing my own vision for the Art and Culture in Barnet

The Barnet Eye Vision
The London Borough of Barnet is a hugely diverse Borough, with people from across the globe, representing many faiths and traditions living together. We need to work together to provide libraries, cultural spaces, events and festivals to celebrate this diversity. We want a council which celebrates our past, present and work to make the cultural future exciting. We seek to provide an environment where artists of all creeds and colours can thrive and where all new developments are built around people not profit. 

Before writing this blog, I also consulted with many other people involved in provision of arts and culture in the Borough. Strangely none were invited and all were quite surprised to hear what was going on. If I believed the London Borough of Barnet was committed to arts and culture, I would sweat blood to ensure that Barnet Council won this coveted title. As it is, it seems to me that it is a highly dishonest bid and I could not support such a scam. 

Oh, by the way, my band, The False Dots will be doing a short set of new numbers at The Colindale Folk club on Monday 13th November at The Chandos Arms, around 8.45pm. If you want to see some real grassroots culture, please come along.  Here's a little video we made of one of our better tracks.

The band have been performing in local venues since 1979. For some of us, arts and culture is a way of life, not just a nice to have

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