Arts has a life outside of London

Ella Williams shuts down the myth that places beyond the bounds of London are culture-less wastelands.

Ella Williams
4th December 2017
Image: Flickr

Artists and audiences, this is a Southerner announcement: there is life outside London!

As a born and bred inhabitant of the London bubble, I grew up under the notion that home is where the art is. The concretion of culture on my doorstep meant “expanding my horizons” from the stops on the Northern line; a world-famous theatre a walk-to-school away, a bus ride to the buzzing heart of art… so I thought.

The problem with this un-branching network of culture and consumer is in its sufficiency: existing within the “artistic capital” never presented as a limitation, seeing local exhibitions at shard-high prices was never challenged. Simply, it was never put to me (by my London-dwelling social circle) that having an entire world-view from within the M25 was an urban myth that needs dispelling…

Art is crying out for geographical variety

It is not just I with a (now ashamedly) narrow-minded take on a diverse outlook. In fact, art is crying out for geographical variety! The cultural culmination that has spurred London’s most unique and beloved art scenes is in danger of falling into division. Budding communities of creatives emerge before businesses pick up on the “bohemian vibe” - prices skyrocket and they are forced to move on. Such has been the case across decades, with the 1970s boom of Notting Hill, then Shoreditch in the 90s and most recently Hackney falling victim to the cycle. The paradoxical popularity of “hidden gems”, the capital’s flurry for the avant-garde can no longer function in the sealed microcosm of the South-East.

Luckily, and as I’ve been discovering increasingly since coming to the Toon, our various and vibrant artistic heritage extends nation-wide. While world-famous establishments are not indicators for a place’s cultural worth, the classical architecture of Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, for instance,  has earned its popularity and is one of the world’s oldest public museums.

Not-the-capital Britain goes beyond its rich history and is a thriving scene for the modern, too

If it’s London-less prestige for which you are scornful, paintings by Turner, Rembrandt, Monet, Freud and Hockney can be found at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, as well as a wide collection of sculpture, fashion and installation art. There are 5000 years worth of works at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich. See the likes of Blake, Rossetti, Picasso, and Van Gough at the Whitworth in Manchester.

Keep broadening your mind: not-the-capital Britain goes beyond its rich history and is a thriving scene for the modern, too. The Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate is currently showing an exhibition of works by Jean Arp, exploring the parallels between artistic creativity and nature. This follows a great artistic shift from the city and towards the countryside; creators like Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas are sprouting from their London roots in favour of the rural aesthetic. This is no more evident than in the green and flourishing rise of “New Nature Writing”, which points an unpatronising lens into the wilderness and quells, with a Yorkshire-in-spring-esque freshness, its dismissal as boring or backwards.

This is not a dig or slam at Britain’s big city. On the contrary, we are calling for its necessary revival as an engaged part of an even bigger country- joining the London buzz only feeds the destructive cycle of gentrification. We can explore the capital’s backstreets and graffitied walls for the niche and undiscovered, but we would be ignoring the cultural mass that surrounds it. Perhaps it is less about reading between the tube lines, and more about thinking outside the little red box…

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