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Crowds gather at Saturday's Ale and Arty 2019 launch.
ARC was full of the smell of beer this week as ‘Ale and Arty’, our annual real ale festival, took over the building. I love the fact that for a week every year, our main Theatre space becomes a pub, with a team of dedicated volunteers from the Cleveland branch of Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) serving more than 80 real ales, ciders and perries. It’s a way of putting the ownership of that space in the hands of local people, demonstrating that it is theirs, not ours. Across three days, more than 1,500 people will visit the festival itself, with another 1,000 enjoying the music and comedy events we programme alongside.
It was also great to hear that the many micropubs around Stockton town centre were also buzzing on Friday evening. The festival closes to clean up and refresh between the afternoon and evening sessions, giving drinkers the chance to visit some of our neighbours – including the Golden Smog, the Looking Glass and the Lumpy Pumpkin. It’s a good example of the interdependence of a town’s cultural assets, and how collaboration rather than competition can help us all thrive.
I’ve been spending quite a lot of time this week thinking about the Tees Valley’s Local Industrial Strategy. Last year, the government published a new industrial strategy for the UK, which aims to boost productivity by backing businesses through investment in skills, industries and infrastructure. All LEPs (Local Enterprise Partnerships) are now being asked to develop their own local industrial strategy, and the Tees Valley’s is currently being written.
I’ve blogged before about how culture is recognised in the Tees Valley as being an important driver of economic growth, identified as a priority within the Strategic Economic Plan. The Local Industrial Strategy will form part of delivering this plan, and I am keen to make sure that culture is included in the proposed set of interventions that the strategy will set out.
Attending cross-sector consultation sessions around People and Place (two of the five ‘foundations’ that can help boost productivity, along with infrastructure, ideas and business environment) was a great way of comparing some of the challenges faced within the cultural sector with others. I’ve long believed that our sector is too insular, and that we spend too much time talking to each other and not enough to other sectors. It was therefore brilliant to sit with people from sectors such as planning, construction, training and engineering, and hear about their challenges and proposed solutions. How else can we keep our thinking fresh, and continue to extend the reach and impact of our organisations?
It also made me look at ARC itself, through that ‘increasing productivity’ lens – what is our contribution to investing in people, place, ideas, infrastructure and our business environment?
We’re not going to start building new roads anytime soon, but there are many ways we – and the wider cultural sector – can and are contributing. We just need to stop doing it in our bubble and get better at connecting with other sectors.