Plymouth Arts Centre

By Kate Foster, Head of Communications and Development

Plymouth Arts Centre Online

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If you walk past Plymouth Arts Centre (PAC) during September you may see faint neon glass tubes installed on the outside of the building awaiting illumination which, when lit, will invite audiences to ‘Start A Revolution’. The controversial neon message is part of Tim Etchells’, For Now exhibition, which opens on 25 September as part of Plymouth Art Weekender.  The artist will be presenting new solo works and a collaborative performance alongside existing neon text pieces both in the galleries inside and on the façade of PAC. Etchells, the Director of Forced Entertainment, has been brought to Plymouth by PAC’s Artistic Director, Ben Borthwick, who has been in this role for just under 10 months.  As a former curator at Tate Modern and art prize, Artes Mundi Director, Ben has a bulging address book of contacts and takes his role encouraging them to come and show work in Plymouth very seriously. Supporting artists at an earlier stage in their career is also central to PAC’s aims.  The Summer exhibition was Crowd.Control by Carl Slater, an emerging artist in Plymouth and Co-Director of artist-led gallery KARST.  Crowd.Control revisited Plymouth’s 1990s rave scene and unearthed new footage and more than a few deeply-buried memories from some visitors as they witnessed the hypnotic collage collated from digitally-transcribed V8 tapes.  The show also brought a new, younger and music-oriented audience in to learn about a seminal moment in music history.
Tim Etchells
Tim Etchells, Mirror Pieces, 2014
Plymouth Arts Centre
Emerging artists are supported in other ways through Plymouth Arts Centre’s artist development network, PAC Home.  Set up in 2012, PAC Home now boasts over 50 members and was cited by a-n as “one of the best examples in the country”.  Run by Programme Co-ordinator, Vickie Fear, who organises a programme of events and opportunities, the most recent – and technologically-ambitious – being a Google Hangout live streamed to Youtube, relieving PAC Home members from the necessity of leaving the studio to benefit from the sage advice offered on the subject of self-organised practice. A new benefit at PAC for artists visiting Plymouth is a self-catering Residency Flat on the top floor of the building.  With space for up to four people to sleep the flat can be used by visiting artists along with their families or collaborators.  Artists, whether working with PAC or other cultural organisations in the city, take priority but the flat is also let out through Airbnb, creating an additional income stream at a time of predicted further cuts nationwide. With a much more ambitious residency programme now possible and focusing on four strands of artists residencies (local/ UK emerging/ UK established/ international), seeking funding from Trusts and Foundations will be essential to fund the artists using the PAC facilities, as part of an integrated programme of support that also links up with PAC’s partnerships throughout the city. Partnership relationships were a key feature in the launch of Artory, Plymouth’s cultural What’s On app.  The app was produced by Plymouth Arts Centre and i-DAT, and it now groups together and promotes cultural activity from over 16 venues and organisations in Plymouth.  It is an example of how the arts benefit from the collaborative approach we all espouse.

Since 2008, PAC has also worked closely with Take A Part, a socially engaged contemporary art organisation that was started as a partnership project between Plymouth Arts Centre, Plymouth City Council and The Heart of Efford Community Partnership. Take A Part has gone on to be formalised as an independent Community Interest Company and work with 35 artists on 16 commissions, engaging 30,000 people directly.

A recent workshop held to mould PAC’s future Creative Learning Strategy identified that the team believes in the value of a life-long journey of discovery with Plymouth Arts Centre. Babes in arms and Under 5s will continue to come for Bringing In Baby cinema screenings and Creative Play art workshops.  Relationships with schools and families are also being nurtured and PAC are committed to supporting young people working towards their Arts Award qualifications. At the other end of the age spectrum, PAC has established a series of Dementia Friendly films, aimed at providing a relaxed and understanding environment for couples, or family members, to enjoy a film with a relative affected by Alzheimers.  The next in the series is during Plymouth’s Livewell Festival for Mental Health and Wellbeing, a screening of classic musical, Singin’ In The Rain on 22 October.  Funding provided by Plymouth Drake Foundation allows PAC to offer free transport and cinema tickets to former RN and RM personnel and their families to enable them to access these cinema events.

Creative Play session for young children

Creative Play session

Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Royal William Yard as Part of Cinema in the City

Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Royal William Yard as Part of Cinema in the City

For many people though, their first encounter with Plymouth Arts Centre will be watching a film in the intimate 61-seat cinema, or at an offsite cinema event.  The September-October film programme is looking particularly strong with screenings of Macbeth, Diary of a Teenage Girl, and Woody Allen’s Irrational Man programmed.  The team are also looking at ways to bring back a more substantial food offer for cinema goers and talks about regular ‘guest slots’ from the Barbican Theatre’s B-Bar and Veggie Perrins are well underway.

In May, £5,300 was raised through Crowdfunder for Cinema In The City, a series of 10 offsite film events which culminated in Open Air Cinema at Royal William Yard, part of the Plymouth’s Ocean City Festival.  The events were attended by approximately 2,500 people, watching films in unusual venues like the un-developed industrial Factory Cooperage at Royal William Yard, and the National Marine Aquarium.  The film series also brought on board five new sponsors, four of which, including Bond Dickinson and Twofour, were sponsoring PAC for the first time.

As a National Portfolio Organisation funded by Arts Council England to deliver contemporary art, PAC has its funding secured until 2018, albeit at a significantly reduced level.  In anticipation of further funding cuts, PAC is ramping up its fundraising efforts – the crowdfunding campaign was the first in a series of activities to bring more income into the organisation.  Bids to Trusts and Foundations have been submitted and more planned and over the coming year, PAC will be aiming to persuade its current donor base to become regular donors in order to ensure long-term sustainability.

With lots of activity going on, space at PAC has been at a premium for some time.  After an unsuccessful bid for a new home adjacent to the Civic Centre in 2014,  re-purposing areas of the listed building to make more space for visual art is a priority for the team, as the Centre approaches its 70th anniversary.  It’s early days yet, but the ambition still remains to create a gallery for making and showing work of the highest standard in Plymouth.