After The RightMove Poll: Artistic Director Liza Vallance Responds
Studio 3 Arts, the arts organisation that I am Artistic Director of, is based in Barking and Dagenham, and (notwithstanding a short 3-year sojourn into Havering), has been for the last 28 years, when the charity was formed by a group of local young people, keen to make art happen in their local area. In the 3 decades that followed, we’ve been proud to call Stephen Fry, Dudley Moore and Billy Bragg our patrons, secured our place in the Arts Council England National Portfolio over many years, and built a reputation for making outstanding, groundbreaking art in collaboration with local people. After a poll by RightMove last week Barking and Dagenham was announced as the UK’s worst place to live. This made me sad and frustrated. Sad because it’s not a nice feeling, for an area and its community to be branded in such a way, and frustrated because polls like these will never be able to capture the true sense of a place.
Studio 3 Arts’ mission is to create opportunities for local people to experience, participate in and make art in collaboration with professional artists. That’s quite a risky business. It requires local people and the non-arts partner organisations we work with to trust in a process that is often unfamiliar; to open up a dialogue, to try out new skills, or revisit old ones. In my experience, Barking and Dagenham is a place where people are prepared to take that risk, to get stuck into a creative process for which there is often no clearly-marked path to the finish line. And not just that, but to become advocates for our work, encouraging other local people to get involved and to celebrate achievement, diversity and cohesion. A great example of this is Creative Barking and Dagenham: a 3-year Arts Council England programme led by Studio 3 Arts that brings artists into collaboration with people with little or no experience of arts engagement. In the past 2 years we’ve seen artists and organisations like Punchdrunk, Create, and Geraldine Pilgrim make work in the borough that has garnered considerable critical attention for the ways in which local people have informed and owned the creative process – you need only look at Chad McCail’s beautiful mural documenting the history of the Becontree Estate (sited at Valence House Museum, Dagenham) to see this in action.
It’s a place of real ambition and growth, too. The Leader of the Council, Darren Rodwell is working tirelessly to raise the profile of the borough and ensure that this place is primed ready for investment and regeneration. And it’s paying off, with investment and attention in initiatives such as the IceHouse Cultural Quarter, Barking Enterprise Centre and Barking High Street.
There’s no denying that there is a backdrop of urgent social and economic issues at play in the borough. I’m not in a position to comment on the Council’s work in this field, though I do know that in my time here I’ve worked with a good number of Council managers and directors who fight relentlessly for this place and our community.
I guess what I’m saying is that a poll will never tell the full story of a place and can’t communicate the ambition, warmth and spirit of the people who live and work here. If you want to know what Barking and Dagenham is like, come and have a look for yourself. There’s a cuppa waiting for you at Studio 3 Arts.
Artistic Director, Studio 3 Arts