Chelmsford does not have an arts centre. Colchester does, so do Ipswich, Southend, Norwich, Cambridge, Dedham, even Basildon. Chelmsford does not have an affordable arts venue.
The Cramphorn is an excellent arts venue, sadly it’s £100 an hour – unless you have a significant grant you just can’t get enough people in the Cramphorn to make that pay.
Surely something should be done about this? Chelmsford is supposed to be the county town – its facilities should at least match those of other towns in the area?
As I mentioned in July’s Panic, someone is attempting to do something about it – Holly English, with support from Essex County Council and Chelmer Housing Partnership.
Throughout the country, there is a movement to use unoccupied shops as temporary arts centres, so providing very cheap (mostly free) venues for emerging artists.
Holly – with the help of ECC and CHP grants – is trying to start something like this in Chelmsford.
Slackspace is a very successful, active, initiative of the same kind, based in Colchester. In a way, Colchester has two arts centres, St Mary’s and Slackspace (plus the Mercury, which supports new work by local companies, plus the Headgate, which at £30 an hour is affordable, plus the facilities of Essex University, plus VAF, plus the Minories café, plus… well, I think that list is enough).
Back to Chelmsford. Theshinyshed, Holly’s protean Slackspace, has had real difficulties finding a space to occupy.
Colchester Borough gives Slackspace a generous business rate discount, also it has helped with licensing issues, and given active assistance in finding a venue. None of these things can be said of the situation in Chelmsford.
But why? Chelmsford is in many ways an arts-orientated local authority. Their own events etc are often excellent. But what about helping along independent grassroots initiatives, without which arts activities in any town become rather ‘municipal’ and sterile?
Theshinyshed has now found a home, but there are problems – of cost and the fact that the initial venue cannot be used outside of shop opening hours.
Well you can’t have everything I suppose. But Chelmsford urgently needs something like an arts centre.
If Theshinyshed is to fulfil anything like its full potential, with, in addition to visual art, poetry readings, new plays, electronic/new music workshops, and performance art being showcased as at Slackspace – then pro-active local support is needed.
There are a lot of arts activities which happen in Colchester which just don’t happen in Chelmsford, that’s the plain truth of the matter. The reasons are infra-structural and historical, but not inevitable or irreversible. I repeat, Chelmsford is supposed to be the county town, time for it to wake up to its responsibilities in this regard.