I have been creating theatre in Swindon now for over 10 years and if there is one thing I have learned in that time, it is that Swindon is bursting with creativity. So why then is the idea that Swindon needs to improve its culture still a prevailing part of the town’s identity. Now don’t get me wrong, a focus on cultural spaces is a great thing, absolutely it is but, what I’m really interested to know is what do we mean when we say things like, Swindon has no culture.
Currently, Swindon Borough Council have committed one of their Priorities (in part) to ‘improve our public spaces and local culture’ (www.swindon.gov.uk/vision#pthree) but what does this really mean?
Firstly, we need to ask what we mean by culture… it’s a complex question for which there is little agreement but here’s one example of how culture is defined:
‘Culture is a fuzzy set of basic assumptions and values, orientations to life, beliefs, policies, procedures and behavioural conventions that are shared by a group of people, and that influence
(but do not determine) each member’s behaviour and his/her interpretations of the ‘meaning’ of other people’s behaviour.’
These cultural beliefs and values, which influence our view of the world, are then seen in cultural products and behaviours such as art, film, dance, festivals, skateboarding, street art, food, spoken word or watching football at the pub. Culture is also then, the creation and consumption of all of these things, which are the product of the learned values and beliefs of a particular group of people.
It follows then, that culture is not something that we can thrust upon a community. We can spend millions on a few new; large-scale cultural buildings, bring in out of town artists and creators, we can fill these buildings with cultural objects from far and wide, but we cannot expect the local community to engage with cultural goods that do not speak to their beliefs and values. If we want to improve Swindon’s culture, do we not instead need to look to the vibrant culture of this fabulous town, and see that it does not lack culture but instead has a diverse and complex set of cultural groups expressing themselves in wonderfully creative ways.
Let’s celebrate the culture that we do have and cultivate it. Let’s give the people of Swindon spaces in which they can create and celebrate their views, their beliefs, our culture.
I applaud Swindon Borough Council’s focus on public and cultural spaces. My hope is that we see more creative spaces available for use by those from Swindon and that we encourage and celebrate the work of the wonderful people who live here.