Mendip's creative industries take centre stage, after 'decade in the dark'
Mendip District Council is to kickstart local creative industries with a £40k investment, and the promise of a cultural renaissance for the area.
Creative organisations and practitioners can finally look forward to more opportunities, support and investment after a 10-year funding gap.
The one-off windfall - achieved through significant savings in reduced travel costs by Council staff and members due to COVID restrictions - will provide a welcome boost to the struggling sector, hard-hit by the pandemic during the past 12 months.
The monies will be used to leverage other funds into Mendip from organisations including, potentially, Arts Council England.
Deputy Leader of Mendip District Council and Portfolio Holder for Finance and Enterprise, Barry O'Leary, said: "We are committed to better funding of the creative industries in Mendip - we know their value and must nurture and cherish them.
"This one-off saving will be used immediately, to ensure everyone has the opportunity to access and develop their creativity now.
"We want to enable Mendip residents to lead culturally-rich and fulfilling lives and we want to put a smile on all our faces, as lockdown hopefully ends."
Last autumn, as the impact of the pandemic on the creative industries in Mendip became clearer, the Council commissioned research to look at how it might better support and invest in the many and varied creative industry organisations and venues across the district. From this piece of work a new 'Creative Mendip' structure and strategy was developed.
The Creative Mendip Strategy will align with the Council's Corporate Plan and with other agencies working in the creative industries across Somerset. It's the 'sister paper' to the Council's recently published Tourism Strategy and is closely linked to it. The paper will make its way to Cabinet, via Scrutiny Board, in the coming weeks.
Once agreed by Cabinet, the framework for Creative Mendip will be finalised. In the meantime, actions will begin in earnest in the new financial year to reach into Mendip's communities and encourage grass roots arts and culture to grow and flourish. This will be achieved by:
- revitalising Mendip's relationship with the creative industries in the district and those who work in the many organisations and venues
- using the £40k to lever additional funds from other sources
- linking with the cultural tourism thread of work in the Mendip Tourism Strategy
- working to identify the COVID-secure events planned for spring and early summer
Cllr Liz Leyshon, Portfolio Holder for Corporate Services and Projects said: "The £40k pot is a welcome 'seed packet'. We plan to make it go a very long way - and we will put that money to work right now.
"There is a vibrant creative scene in Mendip that's very distinctive and waiting for something like this to happen, following 12 long months of lockdowns, restrictions and no Government financial support for freelancers in the creative industries."
Cllr Leyshon worked at the Strode Theatre, in Street, for more than 30 years (24 years as manager), before retiring in 2017. She added: "An appreciation and acknowledgment of the vital role creative industries play in our communities has sadly been neglected for ten years. It's so short sighted.
"But this is just the fresh start needed, as we build back from the pandemic. And what better way to express our joy and to celebrate the roadmap out of COVID, than through the creative industries."
Leader of Mendip District Council, Cllr Ros Wyke, said: "This allocation of funds is a deliberate move to place the spotlight firmly back on the creative industries, which have shamefully been left languishing in the dark for a decade.
"It's the first economic investment of its kind in years and I back it wholeheartedly."
Cllr Wyke added: "I strongly believe we should be determined in our efforts to build back positively across all aspects of Mendip, and our creative community will play an important part in that renewal.
"Not only do they make a significant contribution to our way of life and our wellbeing, but also to the local economy."