Victoria Pomery (L); Dave O'Brien (R)

Head to head

Victoria Pomery; Dave O’Brien, Issue 113/07, p19, 01.07.2013
Does cultural regeneration work?
Victoria Pomery is the director at Turner Contemporary, Margate; Dave O’Brien is a lecturer in cultural and creative industries at City University, London

Dear Victoria:

Cultural regeneration is a difficult topic to pin down. During the early noughties effort was put into working out whether there were different kinds of cultural regeneration. For example, Gateshead’s long-term use of culture alongside a property and institutional development programme is quite different to Sheffield’s less successful National Centre for Popular Music.

It is important to keep the different varieties in mind and not uncritically welcome every attempt to link regeneration (which is in itself a contested term) to cultural activity. And does it work?

Dave

Dear Dave:

In Margate, culture has been a real driver for change. Turner Contemporary was conceived as a regeneration initiative as much as a cultural project. We’ve welcomed thousands of visitors, changed perceptions of Margate and supported the local economy.

We know of at least 35 new businesses that have opened on the back of Turner Contemporary and there is a much greater sense of civic pride in the town. There are a number of artist-led spaces and creative industries are moving into the area. Cultural regeneration doesn’t happen overnight and we’ve still got some way to go to resolve some challenging social issues.

Victoria

Dear Victoria:

I don’t want to give the impression I’m against involving culture in local development, as I think culture is crucial. My concerns focus on three points. Who benefits?

Very often cultural regeneration reflects existing power structures associated with cultural consumption and can generate jobs that tend to be low paid and low skilled with unclear career progression. Is it replicable?

The rhetoric surrounding cultural regeneration often doesn’t recognise that different places need different approaches. How can we prove the effects you’ve talked about for Turner in a way that gets to the specific value of a cultural organisation opening a new building?

Dave

Dear Dave:

The benefits need to be felt by all members of the community. Jobs and career progression is one way in which we can measure who benefits, but there are other ways that might give a greater sense of who benefits and how.

The evaluation of culture-led regeneration hasn’t been as in-depth as it might have been and this, combined with the fact that some of the benefits may take years to be realised, may have given the impression that they are not so evenly distributed.

In Margate we’ve started a process of evaluation that considers both the social and economic impacts – the two are linked, one without the other makes no sense.

Victoria

Dear Victoria:

My concern is that we end up locked into viewing cultural regeneration as a form of boosterism that requires either major festivals or new buildings and institutions, when the possibilities for culture’s role in regeneration can be so much broader than that.

Even this line of thought leaves little space for a broader critique of the structural issues affecting local development, issues that are currently being played out in the removal of funding for cultural organisations around England.

That leaves open the question of how we make the case for cultural funding: what happens when this is taken away is something that I, along with colleagues in Birmingham and Salford, are investigating at the moment.

Dave

Dear Dave:

I agree that the arts have a far wider remit to play in our communities and that we need to embrace culture-led regeneration in all its guises. I firmly believe that cultural regeneration works but it takes time.

The transformation that has taken place in Margate has been incredible but we need to ensure that we maintain an ambitious programme that inspires local, regional, national and international audiences for the longer term.

Victoria

Comments

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Jonathan Gammond
MA Member
Access & Interpretation Officer, Wrexham County Borough Museum
08.08.2013, 22:31
What is the definition of cultural regeneration? Does it mean regenerating communities and places that are in some objective way lacking in culture and cultural opportunities OR does it mean economic regeneration using culture as a lever to bring in money, job opportunities and inward investment or is it some hybrid of the two? Sorry, if this sounds like a stupid question.