Picasso in Croydon? Making the unlikely possible once more

Plans to move the local studies and archive public desk into what ought to be the borough’s principal art gallery are condemned as the latest example of Croydon Council’s “cultural vandalism” by TIMOTHY GODFREY, the Town Hall shadow spokesman for culture, who explains the importance of art for the borough’s future

Picasso seen in Croydon – Yes Croydon!”

Picasso 1The headline was seen on posters across London in 1995, heralding the opening of the art gallery at Croydon Clocktower. At the time, I hated the slogan as it highlighted all the negative stereotypes about my town that are, simply, wrong.

Why should it be a surprise to see a major exhibition take place in Croydon? Why would a town of one-third of a million people not regularly host exhibitions of internationally acclaimed art?

Oh… Yes Croydon! Perhaps the marketing gurus of the time knew Croydon all too well, and knew that it could never actually have an art gallery long-term.

Come 2010, and with the Conservatives are returned for a second successive term to run Croydon Council. They start on a programme of cultural destruction. Closing the David Lean Cinema, withdrawing the grant to the Warehouse Theatre (in the middle of an audience development programme reaching out to BME residents), scrapping the Asian Mela, scrapping the Croydon Music Festival and abandoning the Braithwaite Hall.

Last week, those in Croydon who care about our heritage were in fighting mood once again, when the council proposed closing down the borough’s Local Studies Library and archive to public use. Thankfully the full horror of such a cut has now been reversed, and the Tory cabinet member was delighted to announce “an improved service’.

The plan is to transfer the public part of the Local Studies and Archive service and move it to the ground floor of the Clocktower.

Good news! Erm… until you realise that they plan to move the Local Studies’ public desk into the purpose-built art gallery. The impact of this will be to close off the possibility of easily re-opening the gallery as an exhibition space that can host impressive exhibitions that require a secure gallery – like that Picasso exhibition.

The plus side is the gallery is made up of two rooms, so the second room will be able to display paintings from the borough’s art collection.

To me, it is cultural vandalism. The Conservatives may well not be running Croydon after the 2014 council elections, and it is my intention as the Shadow Cabinet Member for Culture to try to rebuild and reinvent some of our cultural attractions.

The art gallery is a classic opportunity. We need to showcase Croydon as a vibrant and exciting place to be creative. Our borough gallery could host exhibitions of new works by local artists as well as the occasional big exhibition of works – maybe in association with big galleries, displaying works that might not get to see the light of day for years in central London. We have the purpose-built exhibition gallery, we just need the will to find a way to use it properly, and for the purpose it was intended.

As Labour prepares our manifesto for those 2014 elections, I am determined that we use our rich cultural heritage and assets to make the borough as a whole feel valued and worthwhile. The Tories have done so much damage to it, it will take many years to rebuild, but a town of 370,000 people must use the arts and culture to full advantage, because if we get our cultural offering right we will be an attractive place for job creation, a destination for companies to locate to and a borough that is liveable.

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1 Response to Picasso in Croydon? Making the unlikely possible once more

  1. More power to your elbow Mr Godfrey!

    That PR campaign for the Picasso exhibition – the one you hated so much – produced more positive media coverage for Croydon nationally and across the Greater London region than anything before or since.

    Playing on the stereotypes was exactly the right thing to do – and it still is: so much better than anything the Ministry of Truth or its immediate predecessors have done since.

    Thanks to the efforts of the present administration, Croydon is still perceived as a cultural desert, but now it’s also seen as a dangerous place to visit.

    So why would you bother? You could be sad about that, or you could see it as a tremendous opportunity to build a better reputation from the ashes of the old one. But first you have to create an annual programme with at least one major artistic event, performance or otherwise, per month.

    The art gallery is equipped to international standards – the Picasso people insisted on it before they allowed the exhibition to come here. What we lacked last time (typical Croydon) was any follow-up: unless you regard a Yuri Geller spoon-bending exhibition as culturally similar.

    I understand Croydon has a substantial collection of artwork, some of it quite good, bequeathed to the borough over many decades and now securely locked away.

    Assuming Fisher’s Philistines haven’t sold it to pay their allowances, the best of it could and should be on display in our public buildings; principally in the art gallery.

    While we’re at it, how about leasing Braithwaite Hall to a fringe theatre company. And we could put the David Lean Cinema back where it belongs too. We could sell tickets for both on commission through the Fairfield box office.

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