Arts Council England chairman Sir Peter Bazalgette visits Norwich
12:00 04 March 2014
With great museums, a vibrant arts scene, and an international standing in literature, Norwich has lots to boast about, and Sir Peter Bazalgette, chairman of Arts Council England, spent yesterday exploring our city’s cultural delights.
Norwich Castle, Writers’ Centre Norwich and the Norfolk and Norwich Festival all featured in Sir Peter Bazalgette’s hectic one-day tour of Norwich.
All three receive funding from Arts Council England, an organisation of which Sir Peter is chairman, and during his visit yesterday he spoke of how he felt Norwich had a great arts and cultural scene with many aspects – including UNESCO City of Literature status – playing their part in the city’s success.
Norwich missed out to Londonderry on the UK City of Culture 2013 title, but Sir Peter said Norwich was still a city of culture despite not having the official name. When asked how the arts scene benefited the city as a whole, he spoke of its cultural, social, educational and economic value.
At Norwich Castle, Sir Peter was given a tour of some of the museum’s highlights – including the displays in the castle’s keep, the Roman Empire exhibition and the Colman Art Galleries featuring work by the Norwich School artists.
Sir Peter appeared extremely impressed by the museum and its collections. “Thank goodness the Normans invaded, otherwise we would not have all of this,” he said at the end of the visit.
Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service is one of only 16 museum services in England to be awarded Major Partner Museum status by the Arts Council.
• A great arts scene and a really special place
Sir Peter said Norwich had a great arts scene and, after being given a sneak preview of the line-up for the 2014 Norfolk and Norwich Festival set to be announced tomorrow, he said he was impressed by what audiences could look forward to in the May arts extravaganza.
“I have looked through their [the Norfolk and Norwich Festival] programme, which starts in a couple of months’ time and it’s really exciting and covers all the art forms...and it’s a really, really good, rich programme and it’s great the way it is spreading out.”
He said the many facets of Norwich’s cultural life contributed to its success, with education playing a key part.
“A great arts scene also depends on a very strong relationship with universities and colleges, and Norwich University of the Arts and the University of East Anglia are a really incredibly important part,” he said, adding that the tradition of Writers’ Centre Norwich and the city’s national and international reputation for literature were among the things that especially made the city stand out.
“Then the other thing is the sense of place,” he said.
“East Anglia but Norfolk in particular, it’s a unique place. There’s nowhere else in Britain like it...we normally talk about arts and culture, and culture is about a sense of place, individual identity, community identity, and it’s just such an unusual place, an unusual coastline, just completely different and unique to the rest of the country, and so that’s the other thing that I think makes East Anglia rather special.”
• Arts funding
Writers’ Centre Norwich, the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, and Norfolk Museums Service are the three major organisations that receive Arts Council funding in Norwich.
Sir Peter said that this year Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service was receiving about £1.2m, Writers’ Centre Norwich was awarded just over a third of a million pounds, and the festival was receiving £800,000.
He said it was important all arts organisations looked to diversify how they raised funds, just as the Norfolk and Norwich Festival is doing.
“We are the major funder of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival...but they are working very hard on driving better revenues from ticket sales...and also they are working hard on raising more money from local businesses and they are working hard on getting people to make donations...so they are working very hard to diversify their revenue streams which is what all arts organisations now need to do,” he said.
• The value of Norwich’s arts scene
“One of the things that I found when I came to chair the Arts Council just over a year ago was that most people seemed to be in favour of public investment in arts and culture, even in tough times, and they are tough times, but they could not quite remember why,” said Sir Peter.
“So we have been doing a lot of work, working with our partners in places like Norwich to remind everybody why we do it.
“There are four main reasons why we put money in. This is what the arts mean to Norwich and indeed to Norfolk.
“One is the intrinsic value of culture, sense of identity, sense of place. I even call it the empathetic citizen, the person who is alive to other people’s human conditions and so on, and then there’s the whole connections with society, the way in which the arts and culture feed into everything from old people’s homes to prisons to library services and everything else. “Arts and society, arts and education, I’ve said about the fantastic connection between the University of East Anglia and Norwich University of the Arts and the local arts scene and the activities and the collaborations, and then finally the economy.
“Arts and culture sits at the core of the tourist economy and it creates the talent that will feed through into the creative industries later on.”
• City of Culture
Norwich missed out on the City of Culture title, but Sir Peter said this did not mean it was not a great cultural city.
“The great thing about applying to be a City of Culture is that you have a fantastic legacy even if you lose because the city makes all the plans and it enacts half of them, and that is what Norwich has done so there is a great legacy from it,” he said.
“In a sense Norwich has become a city of culture so it doesn’t need to apply [again]. It’s doing a lot of things it would have done had it been City of Culture.”