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Southwark as the cultural heart of London

Lewis Southwark Council are holding an Arts Conference today sponsored by Tate Modern with speakers including the Shadow Arts Minister Edward Vaizey and Munira Murza, the City Hall Culture supremo. Here Cllr Lewis Robinson, Executive Member for Culture Leisure and Sport on Southwark, gives his views.

One of the current fashionable buzzwords on the lips of every politician is “localism”.  I thought in opening this event today I would reflect on what this means for arts and culture and Southwark.

The Arts to date have weathered the current economic downturn better than feared.  A mixture of “staycations” and a weaker currency have seen visits and ticket revenue remain relatively buoyant at national institutions.  But we should all recognise that after the next General Election, the next challenge will be what impact restoring the public finances has on the arts.

And this is where “localism” will come into play.  It would be too easy for Government and local authorities, facing straightened circumstances to say “we don’t do culture” without thinking through the consequences.

However, in Southwark, like Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea, we have a unique combination of local, national and international institutions providing a cultural backbone to the Borough, running from the Dulwich Picture Gallery, South London Gallery, to the Tate Modern and the raft of other organisations
along the Southbank represented here today.

With such a creative mix we can only say one thing in Southwark – “We do do Culture”, not just because in a recession the arts can provide reflection for many people, but for hard economic facts.  5 million visitors come to the Tate Modern each year, and the Arts Council invests £7million a year in Southwark

Southwark Council has created a film unit which is now unrivalled in London for its service to film makers, with Keira Knightley, Clint Eastwood and David Tennant all shooting in the borough recently.  The revenue from filming supports many of the council’s community events, that otherwise we would struggle to fund.

I agree with the London Mayor that the issue is not about public versus private sector funding.  A mix of corporate sponsorship, public investment and philanthropic giving can help the arts ride out the current downturn and help stimulate London’s economy for the future.  As Kevin Spacey has succinctly put it “We must cite the economic value of what after all is called Show Business”

Our borough is embarking on a £1.5bn pound regeneration of the Elephant & Castle.

It’s my ambition that the success we have achieved in regenerating the Southbank through the arts can spread on the same scale to the Elephant, which already boasts 260 individual artists and organisations.  The seeds of a new cultural quarter are growing out of regeneration with the Ministry of Sound, the Imperial
War Museum and individual artists like Roger Hiorns already creating exciting work such as the Turner short listed Seizure, known to many as the Crystal House.

“Localism” means recognising the particular strengths of your Borough, and the economic benefits they can bring to your residents, and the arts here are not a luxury, they are a vital part of the local economy.  Putting the arts at the centre of regeneration in the Elephant could truly make Southwark the cultural heart of London.


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