WALTER CRONXITE on a rebuff for Croydon’s half-arsed artistic efforts
So, it seems that the Mayor of London doesn’t reckon much of council leader Tony Newman’s notion of what passes for culture in Croydon.
Indeed, Sadiq Khan appears to share David Bowie’s view of Croydon.
And executives working at the council offices in Fisher’s Folly have blocked questions about how much Council Tax money was spent on preparing the Croydon’s failed bid to become the “Borough of Culture”.
Despite tens of thousands of pounds being spent in the past 12 months by Newman and Jo Negrini, the council chief exec, on the art-washing gentrification of Surrey Street, or in commissioning bizarre park benches plonked in the High Street, and using public cash to subsidise events that promote the sale of 10-quid burgers in Boozepark, Sadiq Khan today rejected Croydon Council’s bid to be London’s Borough of Culture in 2019.
Or in 2020.
The Mayor didn’t even put Croydon’s bid in the top eight from London local authorities when he made the announcement this morning, with Waltham Forest and Brent … fucking Brent for fuck’s sake… getting to be the capital’s first Boroughs of Culture, in 2019 and 2020 respectively.
Not all of London’s boroughs had even bothered to enter.
In some respects, missing out might save Croydon some embarrassment, since the Fairfield Halls, at the centre of what Negrini and Newman call Croydon’s “Cultural Quarter”, will not be re-opening promptly after what was supposed to be just a two-year refurbishment.
On receiving the news, Timothy Godfrey, the council cabinet member for arts and stuff, made a spirited effort to defend his, and his administration’s, record on the arts. The Labour-run council has, as Godfrey pointed out, had to recover a lot of ground lost under the Philistinism of their Tory predecessors.
“Croydon has come a long way in just four years on culture,” Godfrey said. “When we came to office, the Tories had sold off museum collections, closed arts facilities, ended council support for the arts and theatre, disbanded the Culture department and ceased having a cabinet member for culture.”
But Newman’s bad habit of over-promising and under-delivering is exemplified in the Fairfield Halls, which he once claimed, apparently in all seriousness, “would rival the South Bank”.
As recently as last October, the Halls were still front and centre of what Newman was pitching to City Hall, in pursuit of a first prize of the £1.35million arts grant from the Mayor for a special year of events.
“2019 will be the first full year of the newly refurbished Fairfield Halls after we spend £30million bringing the venue back to life,” Newman was saying as recently as five months ago.
“There can’t be a better time for the cultural spotlight to shine on Croydon and this is a truly fantastic opportunity for arts organisations across the borough to share in this project,” Newman said, as he begged residents to vote online for Croydon.
Given that Croydon employs a full-time director of culture, the rejection of its bid does place in some perspective how our borough really is viewed by others, even within the capital.
Rather than nurturing the borough’s existing and emerging arts talents, the council has instead chosen to lavish the whole of its £180,000 Ambition Festival annual budget on a single commercial venue – Boxpark – since 2016, which has effectively been used as the private business’s promotional budget. The council has also chosen to litter the town centre’s ancient street market with what are often derivative pieces of art, which provide no real sense of belonging to the place where they have been installed, and most of which have been sourced by one gallery owner and dealer, who has been given an undisclosed budget of public money.
Clearly, this was not what the Mayor of London’s judges were looking for.
“Waltham Forest was praised for its compelling artistic vision and commitment to growing its emerging cultural economy, establishing itself as a leading cultural borough,” City Hall said in making the announcement this morning. “This outer London borough has shown strong leadership in recent years, putting culture at the heart of its growth agenda.” Oh.
“The voices of young people take centre stage in Brent’s bid.” Oh.
“Rather than adopting a top-down approach, the borough is working with young people to explore what culture means to them in the 21st Century and allowing them to directly influence the design of their London Borough of Culture programme.”
But Croydon didn’t just miss out on the big prizes.
There was nearly £1million doled out to six other borough schemes, too, and Croydon didn’t get a sniff of those grants either, which included £40,000 to Merton towards a cinema for Mitcham, £90,000 to Kingston for a music festival (didn’t Croydon used to have one of those, before the Tories shut it down and Labour directed its revived festival cash to Boozepark?) and £200,000 to Lambeth to help develop their own, local artistic talent from the BAME community.
But will Newman and his Gang of Four learn anything from their abortive arts exercise? Don’t get your hopes up.
- BECOME AN INSIDE CROYDON SPONSOR: You can support the local journalism that brings you Inside Croydon for less than a fiver per month. Click here to sign-up as a donor
- Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
- Inside Croydon is the borough’s only independent news source, and still based in the heart of Croydon
- 1 MILLION PAGE VIEWS IN 2017 (January to September)
- ROTTEN BOROUGH AWARDS 2017: Inside Croydon was source for two award-winning nominations in Private Eye magazine’s annual celebration of civic cock-ups
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or a local event to publicise, please email us with full details at firstname.lastname@example.org