What does an arts centre mean to you?

In the wake of the National Portfolio announcement last week, a few artists answer the question ‘What does an arts centre mean to you?’. Have a look at their responses below:


I am so at home at the Albany these days I realise I have taken to nodding or smiling at most people I pass, whether or not we know each other. A couple of weeks ago, instead of just nodding back at me, one guy slowed his walk through the cafe and raised a quizzical eyebrow:

“Why are all these people bringing their laptops to the theatre? Why do they not use them at home?”

I explained that for me as well as coming here to see performances, I come to meet and swap ideas with the people that I make performance with. That can be an all day devising session in the studio, or a quick planning meeting about the next Chill Pill event. I told him there was nowhere else a chance 30 second conversation en route to the garden could save two people about six emails.

Essentially though, as well as being a base for several arts organisations I work with, it also feels like a vibrant public space for anyone to spend time. Even if I don’t know the other people working here personally, when I sit and think and write in the cafe there is some sense of connection with them. Because I know that they are most likely local, or interested or involved in the arts, or both. Just like me.

Simon Mole


My earliest memory of an Arts Centre is in Ladywell, South East London. I went to a club there until about the age of 5. I knew ‘going to Ladywell’ meant that I was going to enjoy myself. The name ‘Ladywell’ meant painting, dressing up, singing, dancing, banging musical instruments and generally having a great time. Last year my Nan who is 94, was part of a 20 strong knitting team who knit a map of the world in an Arts Centre. My fundamental assumption is that an Arts Centre is a place where you can experience all the creative things: painting, spoken word, poetry, theatre, live art, music, comedy, dance, sculpture and everything else. An Arts Centre is a place where all the arts and all of those audiences intersect.

Recently I did a small residency at ARC, Stockton Arts Centre. As part of that residency I went out into local schools and ran workshops as part of the development of my new show Play Dough. So although an Arts Centre is a place where audiences come, it also can reach out into the world as well.

An Arts Centre can shape the way we talk creatively with one another from dressing up to map making.

Clare Duffy, Unlimited Theatre


Until I was eighteen, I didn’t know there was a difference between theatres and arts centres, and since then I’ve tended to find theatres slightly thin and disappointing. In Middlesbrough, where I grew up, there were only arts centres (and even those, in Stockton and Darlington, were a trek). But they were treasure troves. Not just theatre but music, art-house cinema, visual arts. I owe the beginnings of my cultural education to these places, and the whole of my sense that it’s possible to come from where I come from, and still have a valid aspiration to artistic practice. Having moved among visual artists, musicians and the rest at arts centres at seventeen, I now go to our leading theatres and think, “where’s everyone else”?

Daniel Bye


An arts centre is …

A place for the mixing of disciplines, where dance meets theatre meets circus meets fine arts. Where music is learned and practiced and performed and filters into everything else. Where arts does not only mean performing arts. Where the people who live two, three and four streets away think of the building – rightly – as theirs. Where the people who live fifteen minutes away think the same. An arts centre could be as cheap as possible to visit and engage with (free is good) and at the same time, aim as high as possible in the standard of work it creates and presents. Eclecticism, bravery, silliness and passion could be encouraged. Mistakes and failures could be seen as the signposts to success that they truly are. The café or bar could be the hub, the heart of the space, where people are pleased to bump into each other, where new relationships are formed and old bonds cemented, where conversations become new work, and new work feels like a conversation. An arts centre could be a Fun Palace.

Stella Duffy