When a council promotes a cultural strategy for a town, these days it means just one thing – the process of gentrification (and the associated social cleansing) is underway. So when we read this – Councillors approve next steps in draft cultural strategy for Basildon town centre – we were sceptical about the motives. Not least because of the plans to plonk high rise apartment blocks all over the town centre.

What really riled us about this piece of bullshit from Basildon Council was this statement by the leader of the council, Gavin Callaghan (Lab): “For a reimagined town centre to be successful arts and culture needs to be something that everyone can enjoy – from performing arts through to healthy green spaces throughout the town centre. We will talk to the arts and culture community to find the best path to achieving these ambitions.” Okay, perhaps Callaghan would like to start by apologising for the crass remarks he made about Vin Harrop, a long standing stalwart of the genuine arts scene in Basildon: Here’s some advice for Cllr. Gavin Callaghan (Lab) – the leader of Basildon Council. If Callaghan actually finds the humility to do this and mean it, then perhaps we wouldn’t be so cynical about the motives behind the ‘cultural strategy’. We won’t be holding our breath though…

This is the view of one Basildon artist, the creator of Old Man Stan on the use of artwash in a bid to try and sugar coat the ‘re-generation’ (a.k.a. destruction) of Basildon town centre:

Regrettably, but predictably, the developers who are taking over our town centre are not prepared to work with local artists directly. It’s probably more accurate to say that this is not put to them. It’s probably closer to the truth to say they really arent’ bothered.

What they want to do is only work with the multitude of “place making” and “re-branding” consultants.. of which we are rapidly being buried under.

These are organisations who are generally not connected to the borough, though sometimes tenuously.. firms like Things Made Public.. working directly with developers.. Basildon CPP.. basically an extension of TMP and generally working by the book in their own clique and industry people.. Future City.. who will treat us the same as they have done every other place they’ve managed in the world.. and Hemmingway etc etc blah blah… Our local council has never relied on or spent so much money on Consultants. Ultimately, they are all paid with our money.

They all use the same old same old set piece tricks designed to wow us but don’t.

Regeneration and Masterplan? We wont get what we want.. We wont get what we need.. We will get what we are given and what we are given will depend on their goals.

Basically, don’t get taken in by Callaghan’s bullshit about a cultural strategy because it’s cynically being used as a means to an end. More importantly, do what you can to support the genuine arts community in Basildon who have been doing it for years and deserve some recognition.

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