North East Cambridge Area Action Plan Issues and Options 2019

Representation ID: 33442

Received: 25/03/2019

Respondent: ms suzanne emerson

Representation Summary:

Cambridge needs more performing venues to meet the needs of the many community theatre groups in the city and surrounding areas. We propose a new Performing Arts Centre for those that currently have to rely on the university and private school theatre spaces, which are only available term time.

Our vision sees an offering of a main theatre, smaller studio spaces, rehearsals rooms, workshops and a café/bar. Cambridge North would be the ideal site. Currently all 'real' theatre spaces are in the city and would be a valuable addition to the emerging community.

In particular, this provision north of the city can provide local community groups with performing opportunities in a 'real' theatre.

Full text:

In 2013, Cambridge City Council commissioned an audit and needs analysis of the Arts infrastructure in the City of Cambridge. The report found that for future population demands, Cambridge requires the addition of the equivalent of a mid-sized auditorium and its front and backstage facilities.

In addition, it stated that "'Sufficient' per capita provision is not usually enough to make a city such as Cambridge a regional cultural capital of the arts. If it is to benchmark itself against cities with similar assets, of a similar size and constituency but a higher arts profile, it would need to go beyond just 'sufficient' provision".

To create a home for the performing arts in Cambridge that is accessible, community-focused and attractive to both audiences and artists from Cambridge and beyond.

We believe that the performing arts should:
* provide opportunities that transcend socioeconomic status, age, race, nationality,
religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and any form of disability or reduced ability;
* be affordable to participate in for both artists and audiences;
* reflect the diversity of our communities.

We believe that participation in community arts, both as creators and as audience members:
* builds a sense of belonging, acceptance and pride in one's community;
* promotes empathy, imagination and cooperation;
* promotes health and well-being;
* nurtures budding talent in all the creative disciplines;
* develops fundamental technical and personal skills that translate to all areas of work and life.

The Cambridge theatre community has an extremely active history of volunteerism, and a community arts centre will further strengthen this.

Attracting Audiences and Artists
We believe that a performing arts centre should serve the needs of the local community. It should provide a place to:
* gather, inspire and exchange ideas;
* prepare and develop performance art;
* drive the attainment of excellence in the performing arts;
* share with audiences.

Most importantly, it should be a space that is dedicated to the performing arts as its primary function.

We are proposing a new venue for Cambridge: a venue that is designed to accommodate the full diversity of the Cambridge community in terms of physical access, affordability and programming. It will include:
* studio spaces which are purpose-built to be appropriate for theatre and dance classes and for rehearsals;
* performance spaces that are wheelchair-accessible and flexible enough to handle a wide range of theatrical productions;
* workshop space for the construction of sets, props and costumes;
* office space to house local theatre groups and artists to help them administer their productions;
* deep connections to the local theatre community;
* a seven-night-a-week programme driven first and foremost by the Cambridge community's needs, with touring productions scheduled in to round out the programme.

The ideal performing arts centre should also provide spaces that give the local community access to the "green room" feeling of live theatre: a place to enjoy the buzz that exists where art is being created. To this end, collocating an arts centre with a café / lounge is a key ingredient to the success of a true home for the performing arts. We envision a centre where not only ticket-holders and artists come to socialise before and after shows; rather, we seek a true community lounge where:
* visual artists may display their work;
* performing artists may meet to discuss, debate and inspire each other;
* the entire community may come to enjoy the atmosphere of the centre, and possibly have their curiosity piqued.
The synergy between the lounge and theatre will promote the longer term financial
sustainability of the centre.

"It is widely recognised that culture and the arts help to generate a rich quality of life. Besides actively contributing to the health and educational requirements of new and existing communities, especially among young people, they also encourage civic, voluntary and democratic engagement. Culture and the arts embrace everything that makes people feel good about where they live. They create and celebrate local distinctiveness, shape communities and raise standards of design."

The arts "benefit us economically, socially, and educationally - from the future prospects of our children, to the vibrancy of our cities, to the contribution made to economic growth." In this section, we highlight just a few of the most common expected impacts.

The "arts industry's positive impact...results from the revenues initially brought into and then circulated within the [local] economy." This economic benefit can only be achieved via a purpose-built performing arts centre that can attract audiences from the surrounding areas: a general-purpose community centre or village hall is not capable of achieving this.

In addition, the arts "have a particular role to play in: encouraging people into training and employment; supporting volunteers and participants in personal development; [and] improving the image of an area" amongst other social and economic benefits.

Some common social outcomes across a majority of studies include:
* "making new friends, being happier, more creative and confident, a reduced sense of isolation, more people taking up training";
* "more cross-cultural community understanding, stronger sense of 'locality', bringing different groups together, improvement in organizational skills."

The positive educational impacts of exposure to the arts are already well-known: those involved "show heightened academic standing, a strong capacity for self-assessment, and a secure sense of their own ability to plan and work for a positive future."

A dedicated performing arts centre with a collocated café / lounge will contribute in all of the above areas and more:
* classes in performing arts and technical theatre will contribute to the local economy,
education and social well-being of the community;
* a café / lounge will contribute to local employment and skills development, and to the long-term financial stability of the facility;
* a performing arts centre will contribute to local employment and skills development for those working onstage, backstage, and in front-of-house and administration;
* a high-quality programme of performances from local, national and international artists
will bring money into the local economy and tend to keep it circulating locally;
* a venue that combines visual and performance art in a location where the community can gather independently of individual performances will allow for the Cambridge Performing Arts Centre to drive excellence in the arts and develop synergies across disciplines.

As all the current theatres are either in central Cambridge or to the south of the city, the ideal location for a venue of this type would be on the north side of Cambridge, an area which is typically less affluent, and which is also earmarked for significant development over the coming years. In addition, a venue in North Cambridge would provide easy access from surrounding areas which are also currently undergoing development, including Northstowe and Waterbeach.

With the growth that Cambridge is experiencing in the coming years, there is a clear need to expand our art and culture offerings, especially in communities that are presently underserved and undergoing rapid development. A performing arts centre will provide positive economic, social and educational impacts throughout the community for years to come.

Local communities, apart from the student population, have limited opportunities to become involved with creative and artistic ventures in Cambridge. This is the well-known "town and gown" divide and is particularly true for those communities in the less affluent areas of the city.

Cambridge has an increasingly diverse population, including many cultures, and many socioeconomically disadvantaged people in both the city-centre and the surrounding wards (Arbury, Kings Hedges, Cherry Hinton, Grafton as well as the villages and Fenlands).

Without spare money for transport and tickets, Cambridge provides little to no opportunity for this demographic in terms of:
* creating, producing and performing work;
* receiving mentorship, encouragement and training to engage with the Arts sector
(mentoring programmes, internships, apprenticeships, competitions, etc.);
* having a local space in which to gain a first exposure to the performing arts;
* affording the ticket price attached to events across Cambridge's existing cultural

For teens and tweens, there are even fewer opportunities, particularly in terms of affordable performing arts classes.

Finally, many of the city's existing small arts venues have insufficient or non-existent
wheelchair access.

A truly accessible performing arts centre must be welcoming, affordable and physically accessible for all its members.

City Expansion
Cambridge City and the surrounding area have seen significant residential development over the past few years and this seems likely to continue. The Cambridgeshire Local Transport Plan states that "Across the county, major growth is planned in the period to 2031, with over 72000 new dwellings needed to simply meet the predicted demand for housing for current and new residents of the area."

Community Groups
Despite the limitations, Cambridge has a very active local theatre scene. There are many groups run completely by volunteers with productions supported by the local Penguin Club, which is a group of dedicated volunteers who provide a high-level of quality technical support to basically any production that requests it. The Penguin Club serves as a model for the
collaborative, volunteer spirit that exists in the local arts community in Cambridge, and which
may be unique to our area.

The proposed performing arts centre seeks to provide a venue that operates in the same
collaborative spirit that the Penguin Club exhibits.

At first glance, Cambridge would seem to have an abundance of theatres; however, they are
very specific in terms of their availability and appeal. In addition, Cambridge has no Arts Centre as such: arts facilities are housed in many different venues throughout the city and there is little, if any, crossover.

Storey's Field Centre and Other Community Venues
Non-theatrical spaces are expensive and time-consuming to convert into performance-ready
venues and are not easily identified by audiences, particularly those from outside the local
community, as destinations for enjoying art and culture.

For example, Storey's Field Centre, in the new development of Eddington, is an architecturally beautiful venue for weddings, social gatherings and music performances. A theatrical performance venue, however, requires dressing rooms, stage entrances and a more neutral canvas without windows and other architectural features that are obstacles to creating the environment required for theatrical performances.

It is also clear that pre-existing village halls, sports and community centres are not suitable
venues: "[g]reat care needs to be taken not to assume that the general provision of multipurpose community or shared educational space will be adequate for high quality cultural and arts activity." We believe in the development of "multi-artform venues and facilities - for music, dance, theatre, [and] independent cinema."

Student Venues
These include the ADC Theatre, Mumford Theatre, Corpus Playroom, Robinson College, and the Great Hall at the Leys School. These venues are run either by Universities or schools and are only available to hire for performances outside of term time, their principal function being to act as a training ground for students. Some of the colleges also have their own theatres; however, these are invariably used by their own in-house student groups or as conference venues and are rarely used (as theatres) by other groups unless there is a specific connection with the college.

Cambridge Junction
The Cambridge Junction is possibly the closest to a centre for the performing arts that exists
in Cambridge. Supported by Arts Council England, The Junction has an eclectic and
contemporary feel to its programming, with several professional groups in residence. The
venue has three spaces: J1 is a large open venue used mostly for music gigs, J2 is a theatre
with a capacity of 220, and J3 is a small studio space with seating for up to 100 people.
For local groups, the cost of hire is often prohibitive, and like the student venues, hiring is only possible at restricted times of the year. There are also difficulties in obtaining a performance slot of more than one or two nights. This renders it almost impossible for a community group to achieve financial breakeven on a production. In addition, the meeting rooms available for hire are generally not suitable as rehearsal spaces.

Cambridge Arts Theatre
This is a commercially run theatre and receiving house for major national touring productions, mostly plays. Cambridge Operatic Society have performed annually at the Arts Theatre for several years with a great deal of restriction over show choice and availability of performance slots and there are occasional student productions. The theatre has also done a limited number of in-house productions.

Cambridge Corn Exchange
Primarily a music and comedy venue with one-night-only performances, the Corn Exchange
is run by Cambridge Live, supported by Cambridge City Council. It also houses major dance
shows and occasionally large touring musical productions. With a capacity of up to 1849
people, its size, cost and staging difficulties generally make its use prohibitive for local groups or smaller professional productions.

West Road Concert Hall
Primarily a classical music venue, it is also used regularly as a conference venue. It is rarely
used by local groups as it is difficult to obtain a performance slot of more than one or two
nights. In addition, being a purpose-built concert hall, it can be difficult to stage productions
in the space, without a lot of additional set up.

Despite the wide variety of artists and technicians found in Cambridge, the lack of suitable,
affordable space has become the major bottleneck to the continuing advancement of the
performing arts in the city. With the growth that the Cambridge area is expected to experience over the coming years, there is a clear unmet need for a purpose-built centre for the performing arts in Cambridge.

The Cambridge Performing Arts Centre will be a venue that is:
* Recognised as the home of high quality performance art in Cambridge;
* Capable of meeting future cultural needs of our communities as they continue to grow;
* Contributing to the economic, social and educational development of our communities;
* Accessible, community-focused and attractive to both audiences and artists from Cambridge and beyond.

It will consist of: performance, rehearsal and office spaces; workshop facilities for sets, props
and costumes; and a café / lounge to serve the entire community.
Ultimately, our strategy is to develop a community performing arts centre where people of all
backgrounds, both "town" and "gown", can enjoy socialising and gathering and where the
performing arts is a key focus.

Cambridge Performing Arts Collective was formed in 2018 as a means of bringing together
the local arts community to drive the development of a new arts and performance venue for