FOLKESTONE and Aberdeen may not, on the surface, have much in common, other than their coastal locations.
However, both have suffered economic challenges as society, trade and the economy has changed around them. Folkestone, once a busy fishing port which benefitted for a century and a half from the steamer, then ferry, crossings to France was hit hard by the loss of cross Channel ferries in 2000, when the Channel Tunnel opened. Although it could be argued that the rot began to set in when holidaying in warm European climates became achievable on the average family wage in the UK. It’s easy to find vintage views of Folkestone beach - and similarly Aberdeen beach – covered in the ubiquitous striped deckchairs and knotted hankies of a boom time gone by.
Folkestone’s Channel Tunnel is Aberdeen’s oil industry.
But the two have more in common than challenges.. They are both investing in a joined-up approach to arts-led regeneration. Folkestone has it’s Triennial creative ‘art without walls’ festival and Aberdeen has been growing its cultural offering in recent years and is about to play host to the second annual Nuart street art festival.
Work on developing arts-related events and opportunities is underpinned by Aberdeen City Council’s vision that Aberdeen will be a vibrant, creative and ambitious city. It is a vision which acknowledges the need for developing culture in Aberdeen and one which signals a will for a brighter cultural future. It is a vision which sets the tone for a shift in Aberdeen’s priorities, advocating for the development of culture as one of the key components towards a prosperous future for the city.
I, for one, am a strong believer that there is huge value in imbedding culture at the heart of our cities – and this value has long been recognised in towns and cities across the world. It works most successfully where a cultural vision is an ambitious one which works in true collaboration between artists, the public sector and the private sector. Strong partnerships can strike a balance between artistic achievement and community involvement and engagement. This was demonstrated with the 2017 Nuart Festival which was organised by Aberdeen Inspired and supported by a plethora of organisations, businesses and, most importantly, the global artistic community.
Artistic cities are vibrant cities. Accessible artwork shows a city’s imaginative culture; it encourages more local people to view and appreciate creativity, entices increasing numbers of visitors, and showcases the location as a great place to live and work, thus attracting a new workforce.
The proof is there to be seen in Folkstone - and in many other towns and cities - where a sustained, collaborative arts-led regeneration projects are delivering tangible results. Starting with arts festivals, Folkstone has now established a creative quarter with almost 100 renovated buildings and a host of arts-based schemes to engage the entire town in creativity through a proliferation of local activity.
The vast majority of people (83%) claim that the arts are somewhat or very important in their lives. 93% agree that arts activities enrich the quality of our lives and 90% believe that an active local arts scene helps make a community a better place to live, whilst 80% think that an active arts scene helps communities to attract business. Creative cities are a magnet for businesses and their workforces. We don’t have to look as far as the south coast of England to see the impact a vibrant creative sector has on a city’s fortunes. Our near neighbours in Dundee are already benefitting from the V&A … and it doesn’t even open until September this year.
We also know from VisitScotland research that history and culture remains one of the top three motivators for trips to Scotland. In fact, 37% of all current visitors to Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire visit a museum or art gallery while they are in the area. In its most recent analysis of visits to its members attractions, the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA) announced in February that visits to museums and galleries were up by 7.5%.
Broadening access to the arts – art without walls – should be a collective aim. It was certainly the aim of one of Britain’s most renowned economists Lord John Maynard Keynes and it explained his drive to create the Arts Council in the 1940s. Keynes considered that” love of money as a possession” was “one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities.”
He predicted in ‘The Economic Possibilities of Our Grandchildren’ that in the future people would only work 15 hours a week, thus their leisure time would significantly increase.
He opened the door to the arts for many – in a similar way as Folkstone and Aberdeen are doing three quarters of a century later. He also firmly supported the independence of the artist.
Art is always subjective and it could be said that one man’s street art is another man’s urban vandalism. But we should all have an open mind on what constitutes art. In the words of Maynard Keynes, “The difficulty, lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones”.
Street art – or urban art – is still a new concept for many; an art form in its infancy. Yet, two of the installations which featured in Nuart 2017 were named by Brooklyn Street Art in a list of the world’s most popular pieces of street art. An image of a young boy by Julien de Casabianca was ranked in fourth place and a mural by Add Fuel, a Portuguese visual artist, representing the type of mosaic tiled hall floors which are a feature of many Victorian houses in Aberdeen was listed in 14th place.
I look forward to seeing the international showcase of street art in a series of site specific murals, installations, interventions and temporary exhibitions which Nuart will bring to the streets of Aberdeen as well as the programme of talks, presentations, film screenings, walking tours and workshops. But more than this, I look forward to the longer-term legacy Nuart brings with its injection of colour and creativity in the Granite City.
Aberdeen Standard Investments alongside Burness Paull is a co-sponsor of the Nuart Festival - from Thursday, April 12, to Sunday, April 15. For further information visit www.nuartaberdeen.co.uk.