The "ambitious and forward-thinking" document will be the cornerstone of a bid for UK City of Culture 2025.
Mike Jarman Photography
An “ambitious and forward-thinking” new cultural strategy aims to make Medway known internationally for its creativity and culture by 2030.
The ten-year Medway Cultural Strategy was drafted by members of the South-East region’s creative sector, with much of the process taking place during last year's lockdowns.
Medway Council said the strategy is “a cornerstone” of the city's bid for UK City of Culture 2025.
Speaking to ArtsProfessional, Paul Cowell, Medway Council’s Head of Culture and Libraries, said the doucment "is not a council strategy".
"It’s a Medway-wide strategy. There is complete ownership by the Medway creative community, from the big players in the area like Chatham Historic Dockyard and [simulation entertainment software developer] Dovetail Games, to theatre companies that are based here and artists working in their studios.”
An 11-person Medway Cultural Strategy Drafting Group wrote the strategy with a creative consultant's assistance following a series of remote group meetings and an initial pre-lockdown public event that attracted about 150 people.
Most of the group are freelance practitioners working across film, fashion, theatre, literature, visual arts, education and heritage, with just two employed at cultural organisations.
Space for creativity
Among the strategy’s key aims is tackling Medway's lack of affordable spaces for the creative sector.
Through inward investment, it hopes to develop “beacon spaces” for cultural activity, which will “shine out from Medway whilst [being] rooted in their communities”.
As part of its ambition to improve Medway’s traditionally low engagement with the arts, the strategy proposes integrating arts and culture into early years education through a creative curriculum.
It will also promote more focus on micro-grants and other support for grassroots cultural activity, while developing post-16 opportunities in the arts to retain and attract young practitioners.
Ultimately, it aims to ensure Medway’s cultural sector is “fully connected, physically, digitally and philosophically” by 2030.
A potential year as City of Culture is seen as “a platform for growth, not the ceiling of success”.
An iterative approach
A grassroots approach rather than top-down council-led work is seen as key to making the strategy a success.
Cowell said the collaborative, partnership approach to creating the strategy will continue into its delivery.
With an “integrated, iterative evaluation process”, there was scope for the strategy to evolve in response to local or international events, he said.
“This isn’t something that is written in stone for the next ten years; we’ve absolutely given it space to breath and grow.”
“The cultural strategy is the legacy foundation for our City Of Culture bid,” Cowell said.
“If we were to win City of Culture it would just amplify the themes of the strategy and push us more quickly to reach our destination faster.”
Values and themes
The “aspirational” strategy is defined by six key values and organised around five themes.
The themes that underpin the strategy's delivery are connectivity, shared ambition, spaces and places, creative people, and community engagement.
The strategy's creators hope that these will help it deliver its values of working in partnership, thinking strategically and long term, acting in an environmentally sustainable way, enhancing inclusion and access for all, recognising culture as integral to wellbeing and health, and crucially, evaluating the impact of its actions before moving on.
Creative Medway, described as “a new and radical partnership that embodies the values of the strategy”, will lead its delivery.
Five themed working groups responsible for the specific areas of development will initially focus on developing Medway’s City of Culture bid.