Felines in formation: the first open meeting of the Croydon Arts Network

By - Monday 7th April, 2014

Liz Sheppard-Jones reports on the culture vultures’ answer to Croydon Tech City

This was a fascinating, inspiring, infuriating meeting. The Croydon Arts Network was founded by Charlotte Davies, Chair of South Croydon Community Association, Katie Taylor of the Design Museum London, Anna Arthur, General Manager of Aerowaves and Carol Whinnom of Badger Music. This first in a series of planned open meetings was held at 6pm on Sunday 30th March in the studio space at Matthew’s Yard and attracted around forty people, among them artists, photographers, poets, activists, arts administrators and fundraisers. Ably organized and hosted by Katie Taylor and Anna Arthur, the open meeting was explained to us as a brain-storming session, aiming to gather ideas about C.A.N.’s future direction.

We CAN do it – the first open meeting gets stuck into planning, structure and presence for the arts in Croydon. Photo by Neale Atkinson. Used with permission.

The Big Society is a bone David Cameron flung to us when he slashed arts funding

C.A.N. seeks to ‘nurture a stable and sustainable arts scene in Croydon, raise the borough’s national profile and bring local people together’. But after a rambling introduction by Clive (he gave no second name) a likeable ex-dancer, writer and musician who appeared not to understand that ‘the Big Society’ is the bone David Cameron flung to us when he slashed the funding that nurtured the arts and other public services in Britain (that was the infuriating part), I feared the meeting might become an exercise in herding cats – lots of beautiful, creative souls with their own random ideas about where to go, all refusing to take direction or make any kind of constructive plan.

Then Katie Taylor brought focus as she split us into groups to discuss arts funding, venues in Croydon, website promotion, collaboration, specific projects and new directions.

C.A.N. is #Croydon #TechCity for the arts

A double page spread couldn’t do justice to the range of interesting and intelligent ideas which a spokesperson for each group then presented to the meeting, but to summarise:

● Funding was rightly identified as the key to everything. C.A.N. is envisaged as a source of guidance for creatives on how to access crucial financial support

● Venues: Croydon lacks a mid-sized performance space. Everything we have is either too big or too small

Website: this is being developed but it’s important to remember that many are still excluded from solely web-based organisations

● New directions: Croydon has a dynamic community of creatives, increasing in confidence and becoming aware of each others’ presence. C.A.N. embodies their growing energy and seeks to amplify and channel it

● Specific projects: there are lots, so watch this space!

● Collaboration: arts and culture in Croydon should be public, visible and interwoven with people’s lives rather than set apart. In particular, it’s important to give opportunities to engage with the arts to people older than school age.

The meeting ended with some interesting insights from Rhiannon Greene, Volunteer and Community Development Manager at the Design Museum London. She described her experiences of outreach work in museums – a great glimpse of life at the artistic-community-engagement coalface.

C.A.N. aspires to become #Croydon #TechCity for the arts, no less, and for that vision alone deserves a heartfelt welcome. Thanks for the meeting – you made me proud to call myself Croydonian.

Croydon Arts Network is holding its next open meeting 7-9pm on Thursday May 15th at Matthew’s Yard.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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