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What Next? Notes from Friday 4th Meeting – or:  ‘The (somewhat muddy) GrassRoots’

Dear All,

I hope you will not mind if I feed back my quite honest reflections following our recent Yarmouth What Next? meeting yesterday. Further below are (possibly more useful to WN?) specific news from recent meets:

We had several apologies from Melinda Appleby (Waveney and Blyth Arts and Landscape Writer), Seachange Arts and the Museums Service, Ellery Child, from other numerous local practitioners (who were each attending their ‘day jobs’) and from Hugh Sturzaker of the GY Arts Festival (who has been a constant supporter).

In attendance: Liam Murphy, Tom Richards (Comeunity/Vol.Norfolk), Patricia Peters, Daniel England, Alison Macfarlane, Julia Devonshire

It was a shame that Gavin Dean, theatre manager, couldn’t join us – but perhaps I should do more to engage!

Having come from a Great Yarmouth Cultural Heritage Partnership meeting previously, where I was asked by Hugh Sturzaker (the Chair) to introduce What Next? to the group, It had been noted by some members that in the absence of Seachange Arts, I was alone in representing artists and artistic production in the Partnership! ‘Heritage’ is a clearly distinct and better (financially) supported activity in Great Yarmouth.  There is a very clear deficit in support for new work by local people. Seachange have limited engagement in this area but are an art form – specific company and therefore not working comprehensively across all media. Opportunities in Music, Visual Arts, Spoken and Written Word, 3d, Combined Arts, Public Realm, Crafts, Film and New Media are great and largely under-exploited..

This meeting of WN? was called in response to a request from James Moore and other local writers, (around 20 at most) who have formed a local writers’ group called ‘Blurb’ – operative for the past 18 months.

In response to this request, I invited reps from WriterCentreNorwich, local writers and WN? attendees . Whilst I am not entirely pessimistic for the prospects of a What Next? group in this region (we had, again, some new attendees including the artist Julia Devonshire and Alison Macfarlane, Executive Director at WCN) I did feel as Chair, that WN? alone was not the ideal vehicle to meet the disparate but overlapping needs of people in this area who are interested in arts practice and keen to embark on professional development opportunities..

James was ill and sent Daniel, another member of the group in his absence, who was very eloquent in describing the group and the intentions of the group. The need to find opportunity and support for a variety of interests and needs was very apparent and the risk of such activities degenerating into less productive pastimes without support and steering was also articulated.

Alison spoke briefly about WritersCentre and Norwich’s UNESCO City Of Literature status. She explained that WCN would not be able to furnish any ‘grass-roots’ development with paid assistance and would not see a role for themselves in the actual development of that grass roots activity in the first place.  They would however most definitely welcome an opportunity to collaborate with an organised (and here I would suggest Yarmouth AND Lowestoft grouping). I am very grateful to her for visiting and being so supportive and her suggestion was, broadly, ‘go for it’. The challenge then lies with the creative community in the area to organise in a way that will allow for valuable partnerships like this (and others) to develop. (I am also aware of the work of Rebeccah Giltrow at Gorleston Library in this area and have initiated some contact there.)

I noted the same kind of ‘just do it’ response from David Lan onstage at the first WN? conference. I share the sentiments. However: ‘Just do it’ in London or Manchester is a very different call to ‘Just do it’ in Yarmouth…Opportunity is not geographically equal(I think we all get that). However, if, in the arts, we settle for an entirely market driven ‘attraction to the rich’ and ‘repulsion from the poor’ approach – what hope for everyone else? Where is that trickledown? UNESCO status in relatively thriving Norwich, 20 miles away is having virtually no positive effect in Yarmouth, but is probably dragging talent away…

Which leads me here:


At this point, I might overstep my role as WN? chair and apologies if this is so.  My feeling is that, having audited the assets available, what I have to offer are my joint abilities as an artist and writer and in running a productive cultural sector business. What is really most needed in GY is for people to have accessible opportunities, knowledge and facilities where they can ‘just do it’. I devised a business model whilst at Gallery133 (now Skippings) which I believe would enable a ‘just do it’ environment and given that this is quite congruent with funding now finding it’s way into Norfolk and Suffolk – I will be putting my efforts into establishing a nexus for creativity in the area.  I’ll be talking about this a little more under the #culturebanking tag via the Gallery133 website and on social media for anyone interested… please share. This was the reason I came to Great Yarmouth in the first place!

The Arts Council has begun to wrestle with funding ‘for profit’ ventures – and this will most definitely be (in part) such a thing – so I aim to convince them of the potential and other potential sources of investment. I very much hope that What Next? will be instrumental in helping to develop the thriving creative economy that is so desired here and will certainly be feeding these challenges back into the network to see how our larger institutions and arts organisations can help (if they can)…

As ever, we had a very interesting and potentially useful meeting.

Here ends the GY What Next? (slightly erratic) Report for the first quarter of 2016!

Addendum: Alison Macfarlane offered these further comments as a helpful correction to my not entirely perfect summary of her input to this meeting. It is both helpful and descriptive of the challenges that exist in Yarmouth for ‘creative production’ in terms of its relationship with arts and other areas of finance, funding and investment.

“WCN is very interested to know about writers who form groupings in the Gt Yarmouth area for whatever purpose – mutual support, artistic collaborations, community workshops and schools work, for example. We are not in a position to offer any ‘paid assistance’ to the setting up of these groups or the ‘grass roots’ development work that they may do on a daily basis. However, we would be interested in working in partnership with them where there was a sharing of information and resources, where there was mutual benefit, where we could jointly address some of the needs identified in local cultural strategies in the area, where there was a quality offer and where there was funding support to deliver.”

See #culturebanking for an elaboration and development of Gallery133’s ongoing research into both art and civics and the process of establishing and growing a local creative economy which fosters and promotes wellbeing in the community. Gallery133 will be working with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the What Next? Movement to further these goals and posting ongoing notes. queries and developments here.

Liam Murphy

Gallery133 | What Next? | #culturebankingGY