Established in October last year, Lancaster Arts City is an organisation that aims to bring together all of the cultural venues in our local area. Through the introduction of their monthly event ‘First Fridays’ and their free mobile app letting you know exactly what’s on and where, Lancaster Arts City is making giant steps to lay foundations for Lancaster as a bustling centre of culture.
I met up with Matt Fenton (Director of Live at LICA) and Jamie Woolridge (Marketing and Communications Manager at LICA) to talk through these new initiatives and their feelings towards Lancaster as a cultural hub.
So how did the idea come about and what are it’s aims?
Matt –With the help of Imagination Lancaster we held a big workshop day, bringing together all kinds of people… arts organisations, local business people, you name it, and they spoke about how they viewed the arts specifically in Lancaster and the district. We talked about how we can promote each other’s activity, and out of this came the idea to promote Lancaster as an ‘art’s city’ to sit alongside Lancaster as a ‘historic city’.
Jamie – Lancaster’s a city is known for it’s heritage, and its great buildings make it recognisable. Our idea was to try to raise awareness of arts in Lancaster, flagging it up as a tourist attraction by putting all the arts under one umbrella.
Who is it for?
Matt – It’s aimed at everyone but we’re not saying that all things are for everyone. First Fridays is really aimed at people who might want to dip their toe in the water for the first time. Light up Lancaster was aimed at families and people who wouldn’t necessarily buy a ticket for an arts event or go to a gallery.
Jamie – First Fridays aims to put art in people’s faces in a way, we’re helping residences and students to realise that they live in a cultural town. Matt – Some of the First Fridays have been more like an art-crawl as opposed to a pub-crawl; it’s a really interesting way for students to go into town to see three or four things that might be happening in different venues.
So it’s not just one event, rather lots of things happening across the arts?
Matt – Absolutely, the whole concept is just to get a hit of loads of different things that you may not normally do… a journey through the arts. We’re working collectively rather than competing, co-promoting shows and growing audiences together.
Jamie– It’s making a case that together we’re stronger as Lancaster, as being an arts city. There is an arts audience out there so let’s share our knowledge, let’s share campaigns together and let’s raise awareness of Lancaster.
Matt – It’s such a big shift, the arts partnership has always existed in one way or another but it used to avoid doing things together. And now it’s completely the opposite – let’s all do it on a first Friday, because your success is our success. Especially with the recent funding cuts, I think it’s quite timely that the arts organisations are supporting each other rather than competing.
Obviously Lancaster is quite a small city, do you think it’s been overlooked in the past as a centre for culture?
Matt – Possibly… I mean what’s interesting is there’s loads of great stuff happening but because we’re close to Manchester and Liverpool, in terms of press and awareness there is quite a pull to those bigger cities. Hopefully Lancaster Arts City will just build awareness of what’s happening on your doorstep… there’s a lot here already, but until you know that it’s there you don’t know how good it is.
So how can we get involved? Matt – You need to get the app, go to a First Friday and do something new that you’ve never done before, just wander into a gallery and see what’s happening. Our ticket prices remain really low, we want to keep things accessible for everyone, meaning people can just give it a go and see if they like it.
Jamie – Regardless of what you’re interested in there’s bound to be something appealing that will be on the app, there’s such a range of things to get involved in. I don’t know whether the term ‘arts’ is a hindrance or an asset, hopefully this app can signpost the wealth of activity that comes under the ‘arts’ umbrella, changing perspective of what the arts might mean.