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'Cultural Cities' illustrated forum report - the importance of community involvement

CGI aerial view showing planned pedestrianisation of the south side of Aldwych London around St Mary-le-Strand, flanked by Somerset House, and Bush House / King's College London, part of £18 million investment from Westminster City Council

Following our successful 'Cultural Cities' forum in January with V&A East's Director, Gus Casely-Hayford, we are now releasing our illustrated report from the event. It features the evolution of cultural centres in London from Stratford through to The Strand / Aldwych, Lambeth and West Kensington - Olympia. This is part of a series that will run through 2021.

The forum drew important conclusions, including:

- The drive of V&A East to create a new and vibrant museum experience, where both the heritage and personal stories of those living nearby can be recorded with inter-active digital technology, embraces the centrality of community in the arts today.

- The East Bank at Stratford presents a ready-made cultural district for an under-served part of London but the measure of success will be how active the engagement is with the one million plus inhabitants of the four closest boroughs of Newham, Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Waltham Forest – as well as nationally and globally.

- Arts and cultural institutions need to reflect on how they can help young people from all backgrounds use facilities to develop careers and skills (as shown by the Old Vic theatre workshops for Newark Youth Charity)

- Emerging cultural districts can be helped by developments that are truly mixed-use – as at Albert Embankment, Lambeth and at Olympia in West Kensington – and which offer attractions to different demographics.

- Skilful planning and design can break up former ‘fortress’ sites in cities by creating new routes in and through alongside high-quality public realm, encouraging ‘dwell’ time, engagement and spending (Olympia)

- Historic England highlights the importance of ‘authenticity’ in marrying the history of a place with new cultural experiences.

- The impact of office workers absence in central London during the pandemic and the adoption of home-working, could mean that best case office occupancy rates post-pandemic will be 34% lower than pre-pandemic (according to Arup’s 2020 survey for the MidTown, Victoria, Victoria-Westminster and Northbank business improvement districts (BIDs). This would have a major impact on face-to-face economy revenue and jobs, which makes it even more important that the cultural sector plays a leading role in London’s recovery, encouraging workers, students and visitors back to the centre.

With the news on this week that the Garfield Weston Foundation has given grants to important museums outside London such as the Birmingham Museums Trust, MAC in Belfast and the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff, Future Cities Forum will be holding its regional 'Cultural Cities' event next month.

The Foundation has announced over £30 million to Arts organisations across the UK via the Weston Culture Fund. The fund was created by the Weston family in response to the devastating impact of Covid-19, and is supporting a diverse range of organisations from museums to regional theatres and national touring ballet companies. Grants range from £100,000 up to £1.5 million based on the size of the organisation.

The Foundation's Trustees decided to increase the fund by more than 20% to over £30 million after seeing the level of creativity and determination from Arts organisations which had been hit by the pandemic and which are fighting hard to 'keep the lights on.'

The Garfield Weston Foundation's Director, Philippa Charles said:

'We all want and need our cultural sector to thrive and, if anything, our time away from the Arts has shown just how important they are to us - bringing much needed pleasure and enrichment to our lives. Arts organisations are desperate to re-open and get back to what they do best and we hope that this new funding will help many of them do exactly that.'


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