Lambeth gets on board the Clapham Omnibus

Omnibus Arts Centre
Omnibus Arts Centre
Alistair Smith
Alistair Smith is editor, print of The Stage.
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At a time when local authorities across the country are reining in their arts spend quite alarmingly, it's heartening to hear of at least one council which is taking an enlightened approach to supporting culture in its local area.

Yesterday, I took a trip to the Omnibus Arts Centre near Clapham Common. It's still a building site, but when it opens later this year in the former Clapham library, it will host a 90-seat studio theatre, plus a music room, as well as rehearsal space and a cafe/bar.

Lambeth is one of London's best-served boroughs when it comes to theatre provision, but most of this is concentrated around the South Bank - with the National, Old Vic,Young Vic all at the other end of the borough. Actually, there isn't a huge amount of artistic activity around the Clapham end of Lambeth. The closest arts offerings to the Omnibus are probably Oval House (in Oval) and Battersea Arts Centre (in Wandsworth).

[pullquote]The arts world may have to get used to the idea of a future that is less reliant on public subsidy[/pullquote]

Around seven years ago, the local council decided that the Clapham library would be moving to new premises off Clapham High Street. Its old Victorian home could easily have been (and indeed nearly was)  sold off to property developers to be converted into flats, but after a vociferous local campaign and support from within Lambeth council, it was instead decided to grant the lease of the building to a charitable trust. For the first couple of years, the trust will pay a reduced rate and by the third year it will be on full whack.

http://vimeo.com/33127441

Meanwhile, the building is being used as a hub to regenerate what is sort of a ghost land off the bottom of Clapham High Street.

The council could have got much more money up-front from a property developer who would have (probably) knocked down the unlisted building and built modern flats, but in the end - proving it is successful - the arts centre should do a lot more to improve the area.

As Mark Ravenhill observed in Edinburgh last week, the arts world may have to get used to the idea of a future that is less reliant on public subsidy.

But the Omnibus Arts Centre shows that there are intelligent ways that councils can help out local arts organisations that don't always mean throwing money at the problem.

Indeed, it mirrors - in many ways - the similarly enlightened role that Hammersmith and Fulham Council played in the Bush Theatre finding its new home - coincidentally also in an old Victorian library.

2 Comments

  1. I am glad about the centre, but I would like to mention that Lambeth Council are currently evicting housing co-op residents from their houses in streets nearby, after some of them have lived there for nearly 40 years, and selling their homes off to developers.

    The local Laboour councillors who supported the Omnibus also supported these communities and said “we support your right to remains in your homes” but then voted to evict them.

    While this doesn’t directly impact the arts, the council is selling off social housing stock and adding to the waiting list and purging a community, affecting the mix of the local area and depleting it of people who could and would support the new arts centre. Especially as many people in these communities are artists themselves.

    Commenting in the South London Press on the saving of the old library building one of the local councillors said: “we had to make the council see beyond the pounds, shillings and pence.” Any yet when it comes to peoples’ lives they are seen as assets to be stripped!

    It comes to something when the leaflets announcing the new centre are delivered with a local Labour Party leaflet. Perhaps it is no wonder given that they must be desperate for some good publicity after leaving a trail of broken promises behind them.

    More information on Lambeth’s community purge can be found on http://www.lambethunitedhousingco-op.org.uk and on Twitter @LambethUnited

  2. Indeed, it mirrors – in many ways – the similarly enlightened role that Hammersmith and Fulham Council played in the Bush Theatre finding its new home – coincidentally also in an old Victorian library.

    The Bush pays its actors Equity rates. I do hope this small, 90 seater wont be adopting the unpaid actor model adopted by others of the same size. But then you didn’t ask did you?

    Full of recent articles about how hard it is to sustain a livelihood on the Fringe in Edinburgh yet failing spectacularly to see the similarities with the London Fringe Scene.

    It’d be nice if this publication supported the paying of actors rather than supporting venues without questioning their business models.

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