Do Regeneration Plans Acknowledge Culture Enough?
‘Culture’ often appears to be the optional add-on in regeneration. There may however be ways in which the arts and cultural community could do more to ensure that the benefits of embedding culture into regeneration are understood by those who lead development.
Is it important to encourage developers and planners to include culture in regeneration strategies and programmes?
Much of the physical context of regeneration and development is on or surrounded by publicly owned space. This leaves an important opportunity for local councils to insist from the outset on engagement with developers about the possibilities for public art. Perhaps more could be done to ensure that this engagement is assured, through training and awareness-raising of local government officials and elected representatives.
Awareness of the need to include ‘cultural space’ (flexible small theatre / gallery space, etc) in community regeneration programmes, e.g., alongside provision for / within the plans for schools and other essential public service buildings is also important. Are public guideline on these requirements and on their technical aspects easily available? Are they now part of planners’ and architects’ training? (The specific technical requirements of ‘arts space’ are rarely articulated or understood in dialogue about regeneration.)
On another level, what is being done to ensure that ‘culture’ is actually understood – or indeed appreciated – by developers and planners? It may be difficult to insist formally that private developers are acquainted with what culture has on offer (though project specs could include this), but at least it could be required that planners involved in cultural decisions actually attended or observed the sorts of ‘cultural’ phenomena under debate, before decisions are made….. The National Campaign for the Arts (NCA) recently pointed out that invitations to ‘new’ Councillors to attend cultural events tend to have a very positive impact on their thinking. Can arts and cultural institutions put their hands on their hearts and say they issue regular invitations to Councillors, planners and other decision makers to come and see what’s on offer?
And, once developments have been identified, what about encouraging local artists (performers, community activists, whatever…), equipped with appropriate info and guidelines, to become part of planning teams and community consultation processes, perhaps ‘adopting’ particular programmes of development? There is nothing like a real physically present person who represents a particular ‘take’ on a project, for ensuring that this aspect of the whole development is acknowledged.
This does not however mean that artists, unlike other professionals, should simply ‘give’ their time. Lead bodies could set up an identified fund to support artists of all sorts who are willing to give thought and expertise to ensuring ‘culture’ plays an active part in the thinking of regeneration decision makers.