Museums, galleries, and arts projects across Hastings and Bexhill were paid a visit by the chief executive of the Arts Council England this week.
During Darren Henley’s whistle-stop tour on Monday (May 23), he visited Bexhill Museum, the De La Warr Pavilion, White Rock Theatre, Hastings Pier, Jerwood Gallery and Project Art Works, rounding off the day with a round table with the Cultural Leaders Group.
Mr Henley, who took over the role in April 2015, has made it his mission to visit as many arts projects across England as possible.
He told the Observer: “I spend more than half my working week outside London, meeting people who make great art and culture happen.”
He added: “For me, investing in art and culture is really important because it pays big dividends in people’s lives. There’s real benefits to people’s health and wellbeing and there are benefits to the economy, building up tourism and getting people to stay here. And there’s building the reputation of the place as well, so when people think, on a national and international level about Bexhill and Hastings, they think this is a place that is exciting and innovative.”
Mr Henley praised both Hastings and Rother councils for having ‘a real understanding’ about how culture ‘can change a place for the better’.
This is a big year for the area, with the forthcoming 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. The ROOT 1066 Festival, supported by ACE, will feature a host of events to mark this milestone, including a spectacular laser installation which will light up Hastings.
Mr Henley said: “You think Hastings, you think 1066, so I think it’s great we have an artists’ interpretation of that.
“What I think is exciting is it’s rooted in historical events, but the way it’s been interpreted and the artists involvement are actually very forward-looking and innovative.”
ACE recently supported the Battle Festival and Streets of Battle. Although Mr Henley’s tour did not take him to rural Rother, he says continuing to support projects in rural areas is ‘really important’.
He said: “For us, a lot of focus can go on big cities and big towns, but it’s important we have great culture in rural communities. Across the country we invest in rural communities and it’s an important part of what we do and we want to do more of it.”
Mr Henley added: “I think there’s some fantastic art and culture and creative people here in Sussex. I think I’m always greedy for more of that. The great thing working with creative people is we do not know what they are going to come up with next.”
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