The man holding the purse strings of one of the biggest funding bodies in the country has given his backing to Wigan’s new cultural manifesto.
Arts Council England chief executive Darren Henley took to the stage in The Galleries Shopping Centre at last weekend’s launch festival for The Fire Within and promised full support and cash for the borough’s attempts to transform its fortunes using the arts.
Mr Henley told the packed room: “The Arts Council will support this borough. We want to invest in Wigan.”
Arts Council England has already invested some money in the masterplan, giving £10,000 for consultancy work as it was drawn up, but historically getting money from coalfield communities such as Wigan has been a massive struggle compared to large cities and especially London.
Meanwhile council bosses have announced the exhibition used to launch the arts and culture masterplan will be open to the public for a further two months.
The Fire Within was unveiled with the Galleries shopping complex transformed into a performance space and gallery.
Council bosses say the five-year plan will change cultural perceptions of the borough and make it an attractive location for artists.
Held in a vacant section of the mall, the launch festival increased footfall in the town by 2,000, they added.
Chief executive Alison McKenzie-Folan: “It’s been a great success. This work will help to position Wigan borough as a culturally thriving district in the North West and will provide fantastic economic benefits as we know that culture plays a big part in regenerating areas.
“Increasing cultural activity, seeking investment and putting resource into cultural activity is a key priority for us.”
The launch festival was also praised by a number of high-profile visitors.
Greater Manchester’s night-time economic advisor Sacha Lord tweeted: “The Fire Within is fantastic.
“Go and support it. You can spend hours there and it’s free! Extra bonus the car park was free on a Saturday (others take note). Huge congrats.”
Mr Henley said: “I love the sense of ambition, the sense of possibility and opportunity.
“Looking at some of the plans for the town centre, I thought, this is going to be brilliant, and then coming in here and hearing all of the stories and all of the things you’re planning is absolutely brilliant."
Named to give a nod to the borough’s coal mining heritage, the manifesto draws on inspiration from key figures with borough links, such as artist Theodore Major.
It has been produced in collaboration with borough based film-makers and artists Al Taylor and Al Holmes, known as Al and Al.
They said: “This has been an intense, immense and amazing process. We’ve worked really closely with the council to host this event and although we have led on installations across the world, this has to be one of the best installation teams we have worked with.
“The process of making this show happen has been a dream and we have worked with people who have gone above and beyond their usual day job.
“Everybody is an artist, including the taskforce who have been involved in this work and the council employees who have built the staging and transformed the space.”
Wigan broadcaster and writer Stuart Maconie was there for the festival and said: “This by Al and Al is the most inspirational and exciting thing to do with my home town in decades, go and find out more at The Galleries, Wigan.”
The art installations which proved a huge hit with visitors to the Galleries at the weekend will continue to be on display for the next eight weeks.
The launch featured dozens of local artists and acts including a headline performance from LYNCHS, WigLe Dance, singer Zack Carpenter, poet Louise Fazackerley, Wigan’s 50-piece orchestra, soundscape artist Overload and many more.
There are also many pieces of art works from the archives on display and a taxidermy display, a simulated total eclipse and a exhibition of Theodore Major’s paintings that were created in the final year of his life.