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There's art in them there hills

May 2014

James Heartfield, Ann Jackson and John Siddique explored why visual and literary art is so popular in the hills of the Pennines, chaired by Pauline Hadaway


James HertfieldThe Pennines have long been an alluring part of the world, both for industrialists utilising its natural resources and the workers in those industries escaping their factory life to enjoy the open and grand countryside. Developments in our technological infrastructure, particularly in the generation and distribution of electricity for power, has resulted in post war economic growth taking place in towns and cities rather than the countryside. There seems to have been something of a counter movement of preference by some for living in the urban countryside, particularly by artists, resulting in places like Hebden Bridge getting national recognition as a cultural hotspot.


Ann Jackson

Evan Davis in his recent BBC2 programme Mind the Gap, revisited David Fletcher's notion of Hebden Bridge for example becoming Britain's second city. This rather playful idea comes from Hebden Bridge being an inverted city with a greenbelt centre and suburbs called Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool. The tension between urbane city life and the rather slower and historic pace of life in the country has long been the source of an interesting dialogue, codified in planning regulations around protection of the green belt and metropolitan types banning fox hunting or badger culls for example. The description of economic disparity across the nation, popularly tagged as a north / south economic divide in the Thatcher years, is today often used similarly used to explain a beleaguered countryside.


John SiddiqueThe Blair government response to the decline of traditional manufacturing industries and hollowing out of the economy was to front on Education, Education, Education, whilst heavily investing in the creative industries in the hope of giving UK PLC some sort of immediate purpose and niche offering beyond the City of London. Whilst some individual artists profited handsomely from this attention, the spread of funding for most was certainly far more modest. More importantly perhaps was the development of a new tier of state led funding agencies bringing into play a swathe of grant applications that effectively played off art project against art project, whilst introducing local participation, social equality and identity through locality agendas to the creative process, however loosely policed.


Whilst there may have been an injection of funding by the government for the cultural sector up until the recent austerity cuts, there is clearly still an independently inspired artistic impulse that lives on despite the administrative bureaucracy trying to promote it. Clusters of artists as has occurred in Hebden Bridge, St Ives and of late from Buxton up to sunny New Mills in Derbyshire, seem to have developed without any formalised support, so how should artists respond to such buoyancy in the cultural sphere? Should we be campaigning for more funding for the arts, and if so with what arguments - spur to economic generation, transformative powers, social well-being or because it's good for our soul, and how should that funding be distributed? Or is it best to leave art to take its own course without formal patronage so it doesn't become over commodified?


Some background readings

Origins of Creative Industries Policy in The Creative Industries by Terry Flew 19 April 2011

Clare Allan: Burnt Wood and Paper at The Portico, reviewed by Simon Belt, Manchester Salon November 2012

The Creativity Gap, by James Heartfield

The sacred in art is about more than religion, by Kenan Malik, Guardian 18 March 2014

David on whether London is overrated as a place for artists, by Dave Bowden, IdeasTap 2 April 2014


Watch video of the speaker and audience comments below. Thanks to Dan Clayton the documentary filmmaker from Leeds for this.

Manchester Salon discussion at Spring Bank Arts

Sponsored by

Kitchen designers in New MillsThis discussion was kindly sponsored by Kinder Kitchens, a kitchen design company with their showroom on Albion Road, New Mills, Derbyshire. The Kinder Kitchen showroom has several kitchen displays showing both contemporary and traditional themes as well as a range of worktops including granite, solid wood and laminate. These kitchens show some bespoke hand-made features that make their kitchen displays unique.

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