Council seeks your opinion on East Devon culture scene

Surprisingly, Owl understands that the “New Guard” found that EDDC had neither a strategy for Tourism nor Culture, where various grants might be available.

Paul Arnott 

I don’t think I’ve ever asked readers before to be kind enough to take part in an online survey from EDDC, so this is a first. Curiously, a driver for this is that the administration I am lucky to be leader of wants to do all we can to help grow the local economy.

Now that may not seem consistent with a request to fill in our Public Survey to help us all develop a 10 Year Culture Strategy. But it is. I have been lucky enough to have worked in arts or entertainment, journalism and television or film production and publishing for nearly 40 years, and here is the single most valuable lesson I ever learned:

If you want to feel good about yourself, or be able to lord it over your peer group that your work is the bee’s knees, then get a review in The Guardian or The Independent. However, if you wish to carry on with your project on a sound financial footing, what you also need are good reviews in The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, because to be brutally frank the older readers of both are the ones with the disposable income and the available time to attend.

In other words, don’t ghettoise what you create, always think about how you can do the thing you believe in whilst making sure that the box office is still taking ticket money, or sponsors are happy to donate. This does not mean you have to only produce unchallenging work. Quite the opposite. It means you have a duty to the public to take great care to explain what you are doing, even if it is potentially controversial.

At the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, for every young person in the audience for even the most provocative of work, there is always another who looks at first glance like they most enjoyed a gentle amble around a National Trust house. Don’t judge a sausage by its skin – often this latter group may be comfortably set-up in their middle to later years, but that does not mean they do not have excellent critical faculties.

Which brings me back to the survey. The English language does not really help – even the term “Culture” strategy risks seeming a little elitist. But then that is what we all live in, a culture. It could as well be called an Entertainment strategy, or Arts strategy – all these things mean more or less the same thing.

So what might be considered Culture in East Devon? That’s for you to say. Perhaps a book group, taking part in am-dram or an art class. Private activity such as reading, crafting or knitting. Bouncing around an outdoor festival, or quietly watching a play. Watching or taking part in dance.

Classical or jazz concerts, going to an art gallery or looking at some outdoor art. Nipping to the Picturehouse or the Radway for a sub-titled film or the new Batman, or closer to home supporting film in a screening in your village hall. Folk music. As well of course as visiting our many historic houses, or scheduled monuments.

All of this is “Culture”, which also is “art” and also “entertains”. Crucially, it has the ability to create and sustain many worthwhile and skilled jobs, as well as benefitting our sense of well-being. In some aspects, the creation of something amazing, or just witnessing that, is a life-affirming, even spiritual experience.

Of course, we all get an awful lot from the superb output on British TV, but we are very passive in that context. What we would like to find out through the survey instead, please, is what the residents of East Devon are up to, what they particularly like and what they would love to see more of. The survey is open till March 27th. Please do give it a go.