The once vibrant and colourful Creative Collective studio now sits vacant and dark. Betsy Aidinyantz, the projects founder, is one of the most deeply creative people I’ve ever met. She’s passionate about art and its healing properties on mental health. She’s kind and generous to a fault… except for the times when her volcanic temper flares and you find yourself standing a safe distance away, feeling unable to help as you watch the lava destroy everything in its path, leaving only ashes from which she rises again and again… like the Phoenix.
Ashford Youth Theatre sits on Dover Place, in the heart of the new commercial district, abandoned and awaiting demolition. The theatre group that was based there has been displaced with no clear idea on what’s next. Stella Critchley, coordinator of Ashford Youth Theatre recently spoke to the local media about the situation which is affecting other theatre groups which regularly used the building.
Cllr Graham Galpin, a huge proponent for commercial development and a supporter of Ashford Arts Centre, issued a comment in the same article. He said the commercial quarter must go forward.
Local councils are facing budget cuts from central government and have to make up the shortfall themselves. When money is tight and there’s a choice between roads and infrastructure, looking after the poor and elderly… or funding the arts… guess who loses out?
It doesn’t have to be this way.
KATFM CIC runs Ashford Arts Centre and Ashford Fringe Festival.
We’ve created a business model at the arts centre that makes it possible for anyone in the community to have access to the Creative and Performing Arts:
- We provide affordable space to freelance professionals in music and dance to meet students and clients here.
- We provide an affordable club membership scheme so people from all income levels can have their children taught to read, write and play music as well as dance to it. AAC membership also entitles people to learn to speak English through highly interactive and creative teaching.
- We provide collaboration spaces and opportunities to professionals in all creative industries. We’re a gathering place and hub of potential jobs for people in the arts that find themselves tethered to Ashford for family or financial reasons.
- We will soon provide college level qualifications in Creative Media and Music.
Our business model can be augmented and strengthened with help from our local councils to provide a haven for arts groups like the Creative Collective and Ashford Youth Theatre as well as the many tiny creative entities they support.
This is what I think needs to be done:
- Identify sources of GRANT funding, which can be combined, to enable KATFM CIC to buy one of the large, old victorian buildings in the town centre for £400-500k. This can be done with help from Chris Dixon, who has secured far larger grants in the past for different arts groups.
- In cooperation with the council, arrange for Discretionary Rate Relief for at least 5 years whilst getting the project on firm financial ground.
- Revenue streams: In-house studio rentals, Hourly rentals, arts club memberships and season tickets (themed for Children’s shows, Operas/Musical Theatre, Comedies/Dramatic plays, The GCSE/A-Level Dramas, pantomimes…). We are already doing these things at the arts centre, but the building is too small to accommodate more groups and it’s a rental, we need to own a building to add value to it and energy efficiency measures to reduce costs.
- Convert the 1st and 2nd floors to studios/classrooms, some with resident artists, but maintain some studios for hourly or daily rentals so anyone can use the building.
- Convert the ground floor to a community theatre, run by and for local theatre groups. These groups can rent rehearsal space at a price they can fford and run their own programmes, just as Olivia Duggan currently runs the dance studio at Ashford Arts Centre.
- Resident theatre groups can also book the theatre for performances at a cheaper rate than that paid by outside groups. (The fine details can be sorted between the parties to the contract, but something along these lines is workable).
- Add someone from the ABC and KCC council and someone from the Arts Council on the board of governors for this project to facilitate possible expansion of this business model in other towns across Kent.
I propose a creative companies incubation centre on a larger scale than the one we’ve got at the AAC, which provides affordable membership packages to the public, on-going support in marketing and box office sales for a percentage of the takings to resident and touring artists, affordable studio rentals, classes and qualifications in our respective areas of the Creative and Performing Arts. The CIC can provide the facilities and do the paperwork. The artists can teach, perform and create things in the community.
This is a sensible, business-minded way to preserve the community arts without taking away from other more pressing matters which require funding from local councils.
At the arts centre, we’re reaching previously unreachable families every day. We’re teaching ALL of our members to read and write music compositions. This standardised approach to building communities, friendships and understanding of the arts will put our communities in Kent at a huge advantage over most of the UK in years to come.
All we have to do is cooperate with each other to get the project on its feet. I believe that KATFM CIC has proven itself willing and able to work with all creative disciplines, to help the Creative and Performing Community Arts groups of Ashford thrive and grow.
TOGETHER… We can create a grassroots feeder system for higher education across Kent and send better equipped young people to our colleges and universities.
TOGETHER… We can reach families on the outer fringes of society due to language, cultural and social-economic reasons.
TOGETHER… We can brand, nurture and robustly defend the non-profit arts organisations that might otherwise fail to thrive.
The business model we’ve set up at Ashford Arts Centre, deserves to be given a chance to expand and fulfill its stated aims which are well within the aims of both Ashford Borough and Kent County Councils…
1. We aim to attract, engage and retain entire families in the mid to low income bracket through an all-inclusive plan for members of the community to learn, participate and perform in the safety of a Creative Gym for all stages of life.
2. We aim to educate throughArts-based experiential learning through instrumental and vocal music, Intermediate English for adult learners, film and production.
3. We aim to impact entire communities through total family engagement to the point of making the Creative and Performing Arts a normal part of everyday life.
4. We aim to assist, train and equip people from entry-level to professional.
How we plan to do this:
1. Educate: We will run on going training and participation opportunities for people of all ages and abilities with an interest in the Creative and Performing Arts.
2. Participate: We will host or sponsor opportunities people to enjoy live theatrical performances, independent film, books, festival appearances and any known or not-yet-known means of engaging with our target audiences.
3. Work Experience: The group aims to use music and film projects to create community-led original works, decrease isolation through continuous involvement in arts-based projects and productions, increase self-confidence through performance training, work experience, apprenticeships and preparation for employment in a range of creative industries.
I firmly believe that anything is possible. We can do this… in fact we MUST do something as arts funding continues to dwindle and the lights go out of one valuable community resources after another.
Jon Lindstrom of the SE Arts Council and Chris Dixon of Ashford Borough Council are already taking action on our behalf, this is my personal declaration of intent.
I look forward.
Rhonda Merrick @thekatfm
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