Plans unveiled for a year of culture in the borough
Wigan Council says the arts will once again play an important role in 2021.
A summer arts festival, more financial support for creative talent and a new museum exhibition about a much-loved sport in the borough are all about to launch or are in the pipeline.
The existing exhibition at The Fire Within in Wigan town centre is also staying around so people who have not had a chance to see it due to Covid-19 can do so.
The local authority says it is looking forward to bringing people together once again to enjoy the arts and culture as Covid restrictions ease.
Lesley O’Halloran, director of customer and culture at Wigan Council, said: “The cultural sector has taken a huge hit during the pandemic and we’re now looking forward to working closely with them.
“We’ve been watching the Government’s road map and we’re working on a blended and cautious approach to opening things up with a mix of digital and outdoor activities.
“The focus for the next year is on health and happiness, which is quite apt. We had the year of digital when everything had to turn digital and now we’re focusing on getting people connected and putting on activities which they haven’t been able to enjoy for many months.
“You couldn’t have written the strategy in the way the years have panned out.”
The council is reopening the upstairs of the Museum of Wigan Life, with spaces available to be booked from May 19.
That is also the date The Fire Within reopens, with the current show We Will Always Be Together remaining in place until the end of December.
At the same time the council is keen to get organisations and groups running activities in the HQ room with the emoji stage once more.
This summer will also see the arrival in the borough of Wigan Arts Festival, a partnership between the council and a number of arts and culture groups, with The Old Courts playing a major role and others including The Turnpike, Leigh Spinners Mill and Wigan Steam also involved.
Though the programme is yet to be finalised, the event is slated to run from July 30 until August 14 and will involve a range of artistic and cultural events taking place across the borough.
Neil Harris, business manager for culture, arts and heritage at Wigan Council, said: “We’ve been working really hard with our partners to understand how we can collaboratively put on great activities for our communities.
“We’re looking at open-air photography exhibitions in the green spaces, a recovery garden, showcases of local talent, the music service and young musicians of the year playing.
“We want gigs in our libraries, a gig in Wigan town centre, exhibitions, dance, theatre, things in the public realm and a lot going on in both Leigh and Wigan.
“We hope there’s going to be something for everybody. It will be a moment to enjoy people coming back together, reforming relationships, being able to congregate in a way we haven’t been able to and celebrating that through the arts.”
The council is also once again putting its hand in its pocket to support talent from the borough.
A further £35,000 is being made available for creative practitioners, with grants of between £500 and £1,500 being given out to support new work.
This follows on from the town hall last year giving out £47,000 to 37 different practitioners to support them during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Coun Chris Ready, portfolio holder for communities and neighbourhoods, said: “There is a real need here. We talk about how the sector has been hit but some of the personal stories could bring tears to the eyes.
"This is a small bit we can do to help them and hopefully is the last step before we move back to normality.”
The council is also planning to mark the arrival of the Rugby League World Cup in the autumn with a major new exhibition about the 13-man code at the Museum of Wigan Life.
The council’s decision to prioritise its cultural manifesto and the arts has had some criticism in recent months, with the local authority having to fend off accusations of wasting taxpayers’ money at meetings.
However, the town hall is unapologetic about continuing to pursue its aims for the sector and give more support to creative industries and groups this year.
Coun Ready said: “We have taken some knocks on social media and sometimes the staff have been down because of the comments, but we are moving forward with this and putting Wigan on the cultural map.
"We are now seen as a cultural centre when we were nowhere near being on that map before.”
Ms O’Halloran said: “We know we’ve got fantastic cultural organisations and we are awash with talent in this borough.
“Supporting and enabling them is driving this. They’ve reinvented and carried on during the pandemic in difficult circumstances and we’re now in a lovely place to starting looking ahead with them.”
The fund for creatives opens on May 21 and the deadline is June 4. For more information, visit www.thefirewithin.org.uk
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