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Suffolk arts and culture

PUBLISHED: 11:20 14 January 2016 | UPDATED: 11:29 14 January 2016

Gecko's previous show Missing. Physical theatre combines dance, movement and drama to tell a story

Gecko's previous show Missing. Physical theatre combines dance, movement and drama to tell a story


The arts, culture and our heritage is more important to our economy and our social wellbeing than ever before. Andrew Clarke takes a look at new campaign designed to put Suffolk on the map

Getting Out of the Garret at High TideGetting Out of the Garret at High Tide

You can’t help but notice that we in Suffolk are living in a cultural golden age. Landmark events and high profile companies abound in this part of the world, creating world-class theatre, dance, art and music. But we’re reluctant to blow our own trumpet.

Suffolk’s fault is its modesty, but all that is about to change. A new campaign will sell high quality Suffolk arts, culture and heritage not only to the locals, but also to those outside the county and the region. Look Sideways EAST and Culture 365 are a pair of promotional initiatives that will throw a spotlight on Suffolk and get people talking about the county as one of the nation’s key cultural centres.

Joss Arnott - Dame Evelyn 50Joss Arnott - Dame Evelyn 50

An awful lot of brilliantly creative work gets done in Suffolk. International companies like Gecko and Tilted choose to be based here even though their work takes them around the world. International artists Maggi Hambling, Sarah Lucas, Lawrence Edwards and a host of others also live and work here. The Jerwood DanceHouse, is a national resource based in Ipswich, where DanceEast presents a vast programme of diverse work, much of it new. Last autumn it not only hosted three world premieres, but one of them marked the 50th birthday of percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie.

Elsewhere The New Wolsey Theatre presents new work on a regular basis, homegrown like Tim Firth’s This Is My Family, Midsummer Songs and Miss Nightingale, and tours like Maxine Peake’s Beryl, and Three Lions. They are also the lead in a nationwide initiative to open up disabled theatre to wider audiences, and have pioneered critically acclaimed productions like Three Penny Opera and the Ian Dury musical Reasons To Be Cheerful.

Gecko's previous show Missing. Physical theatre combines dance, movement and drama to tell a storyGecko's previous show Missing. Physical theatre combines dance, movement and drama to tell a story

Cultural tourism is already a substantial part of our economy and is expected to grow 17% in the next few years as more people see Suffolk as somewhere you can encounter arts of an international standard. The key is to use star draws like the myriad festivals staged during the summer, or premieres at DanceEast and The New Wolsey to highlight less high profile but equally creative events.

Culture 365 is currently overseen by Erika Clegg and James Gorry from Spring, the multi-media agency based in Southwold, but the aim is to make it self-perpetuating after three years.

The Multi-Storey Orchestra which will be bringing the Aldeburgh Festival to Ipswich this year.The Multi-Storey Orchestra which will be bringing the Aldeburgh Festival to Ipswich this year.

Says Erika Clegg: “We’re going to be handing out plastic cards at venues, from tourist information centres, hotels, libraries which proudly proclaim ‘I am a cultural native.’ We see people who attend arts, culture and heritage events as being part of a club, and the great thing about clubs is that if it is a successful club people want to join.

“Suffolk has a lot to be proud about and it’s time we started shouting about it, telling the world what’s on offer here. Last autumn we had Gecko, a world renowned company based in Ipswich, opening the BBC’s evening of Live Theatre from BBC Television Centre. That’s amazing. We should be telling everyone that they come from Suffolk.”

Dancers at Dance East in Ipswich who are in the National Youth Dance Company.Dancers at Dance East in Ipswich who are in the National Youth Dance Company.

The whole story

Festivals are a big selling point, particularly when it comes to attracting people from outside the region. But they’re only part of the story. Suffolk needs to celebrate the breadth of its cultural offering. It needs to be talked about in order to attract opinion formers from the capital and the big cities.

Latitude has just celebrated its 10th anniversary, The Aldeburgh Festival has continued to diversify under the direction of former BBC Proms supremo Roger Wright, and these have been recently joined by such high profile events as the HighTide Festival, based in Aldeburgh, which showcases new theatre writing, and the FlipSide festival at Snape which brings South American authors to Suffolk adding food, music, dance and comedy to the mix. The Snape Proms and the Bury Festival broaden the appeal, again programming international artists, and Aldeburgh Music’s Britten Weekend is looking to appeal more to family audiences. Meanwhile, tailor-made events such as Pulse and Spill festivals provide interesting, and, at times, avant garde, work for those who like to explore different types of performance.

James Gorry believes social media is key to getting the message out that Suffolk is at the cutting edge of contemporary culture.

Culture 365 will highlight to local audiences on social media platforms, a different cultural activity every day for a year, while Look Sideways East is a three-year web-based campaign, funded by the Arts Council, Suffolk and Norfolk county councils as well as local cultural and food and drink businesses, dedicated to promoting Suffolk outside the area.

“More work is made here and premiered here than ever before. Dance, theatre, music, performance art, physical theatre – it’s all in Suffolk. We have eight NPOs (Arts Council funded key National Portfolio Organisations), five in Ipswich. We provide high quality, international class arts and culture before it gets to London, before it tours the world. It’s made in Suffolk and it’s seen in Suffolk first. We want local people to enjoy this rich cultural offering, but we want to share it with those who travel for top-class cultural experiences.”

The thinking is that if people come to Suffolk to enjoy, for example, the Aldeburgh Festival, or Flipside, and have a free day or evening, they can be directed to something of equally high quality elsewhere in the county. This gives them a reason to turn a weekend break into a week.

James Gorry observes: “We need to support local culture because it’s an important part of our quality of life. We also need to share our good fortune by attracting cultural tourists, which will allow our economy to prosper.”

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