AS I wrote a few weeks ago, culture has an importance for our lives which is hard to quantify.
Thus, even though we are all struggling together in this merciless economic climate, we must still fight to ensure that key cultural events, the importance of which we cannot calculate in purely financial terms, are retained.
One of these is by far the biggest musical event in the local arts calendar, Basingstoke Live. The annual festival takes over War Memorial Park for a weekend, showcasing local bands, entertainers and bringing headline acts to town, too. And it’s not just for teenagers – families attend en masse, as do older audiences.
It attracts thousands of people, but now Basingstoke’s council has slapped a target on it too, their events manager claiming that it’s “a victim of its own success”.
Not only have we lost Balloons Over Basingstoke, the Carnival, World Party in the Park and countless smaller events and organisations over the years, we are now expected to tolerate this potentially enormous loss.
I particularly smelled a rat when I read that our council plan to develop Basingstoke Festival. As anyone remotely involved with this event last year knows, it was simply an umbrella name for a number of events which were already happening. It is absolutely farcical for the council to claim the attendance numbers for the events at The Anvil, Haymarket, Central Studio and Fairfields Arts Centre, as they, quite frankly, had nothing to do with them except putting their details in the special, and no doubt expensive, ‘Basingstoke Festival’ promotional campaign.
I spend my working life immersed in Basingstoke’s leisure, and take it from me, the only key event which anyone came up with which was uniquely for Basingstoke Festival was the Festival of Choirs – and that was masterminded by local music maestro David Ogborn.
How can our council sit on a 2011-12 £3.5million budget underspend and still claim that the £27,000 needed “for fencing and police costs” will not be available, according to borough council economic and community strategy policy manager Diane Hayward? I find the costs are inexplicable, given that there has never been trouble at the event. In fact, I found the oppressive security last year was OTT and off-putting.
Is it any wonder that people feel wholly estranged from, and infuriated by, local politics, and completely alienated by what can appear to be clueless decision-making, when things of this nature are presented as almost a fait accompli?
Despite our protests and the petition which Councillor Jack Cousens – good on him, at least – has set up, you get that sneaky feeling that the powers-that-be have made up their minds and really, truly, do not care we think.
I am really angry – and you should be too.
*Sign the petition online now at http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/save-basingstoke-live.