‘We need culture to make life interesting’

FUTURE Aspex Gallery director Joanne Bushnell. Picture: Steve Reid (122166-749)
FUTURE Aspex Gallery director Joanne Bushnell. Picture: Steve Reid (122166-749)
Picture: Shutterstock

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From amateur dramatics groups to sports programmes for young people, from up-and-coming comedians to dedicated musicians, Portsmouth is full of talent.

But is there still something missing from our cultural mix? An event that aims to look at the future is Aspex Gallery’s What Next for Culture in Portsmouth?

Taking place tomorrow at 1.30pm at the New Theatre Royal, the conference is a result of the gallery spending months investigating the cultural aspects of the city.

Joanne Bushnell, director of Gunwharf-based Aspex and organiser of the event, says: ‘Instead of simply putting on a series of projects that are often unrelated to one another, we’re asking a question.

‘We’ve done all sorts of activities working with local artists, and working with young people and emerging artists, to try to explore what might happen in the future and what are the opportunities in Portsmouth.’

The idea of the conference is to bring together many different people to discuss what Portsmouth has to offer culturally. The event will feature local and national keynote speakers including Iain Sinclair, psycho-geographer, author of London Orbital and editor of London: City of Disappearances, and Claire Doherty, an international curator, writer and cultural entrepreneur.

There will also be a screening of a film by Annis Joslin featuring the views of Portsmouth residents, as well as a live drawing from local illustrator Arran Makintosh.

Joanne says: ‘The difficulty is that the question ‘‘what next for culture in Portsmouth?’’ is massive and you can’t just come up with answers. We aren’t looking for answers, we’re looking for possibilities.’

She adds: ‘This is a great opportunity for us to talk to people in the city and ask them what they think and to look at what is good about cultural life.’

She adds: ‘Culture is all-encompassing. It’s just massive and one of the things that we have learned through this process is that it’s good to have an open question.’

The gallery has spoken to visitors about what they think about culture in the city and have received a lot of positive answers.

Joanne explains: ‘Of course there are things that could be improved within the city, but my sense is that people are really passionate about the city.

‘It’s hard for organisations like us because we live in a city where art is viewed by some people as not for them, or elitist. I think it’s going to be very important for us to get out and talk to people.’

A milestone in changing people’s attitudes towards culture in the city was the huge dinosaur sculpture that was placed on Southsea Common two years ago. Joanne believes that, although many didn’t know it was organised by Aspex, it did get people talking.

She says: ‘By and large, we want to carry on the conversation and have to make things happen. That can be difficult in the current climate and that’s why working together and being seen as working together is very important.

‘This is why we have decided not to have the conference at Aspex, but instead partner with the New Theatre Royal.’

She adds: ‘I think this city is full of vibrant, dynamic, creative people and I think it will go from strength to strength. We need culture because it makes life interesting.

‘It’s not just about having enough to get by, it’s about enjoying ourselves too.’

· Tickets for the conference cost £10 and include afternoon tea. For information, call (023) 9264 9000.


Caroline Sharman, director of the New Theatre Royal, wanted Aspex to host the conference at the theatre because she believes it’s time people started looking at the cultural development of the city.

She explains: ‘We’re a cultural venue which will hopefully be growing and what we’re doing here is so much about collaboration and the future. For me it seemed important to be involved.

‘The most important thing is what Portsmouth wants and you have to respond.’

As part of the theatre’s own renovation project, it is bringing in more local performance artists and working with the University of Portsmouth to create a new space for young people.

Caroline believes that, in the current economic climate, it’s more important than ever to keep culture alive.

She says: ‘The Kings Theatre in Southsea has a fantastic community spirit and the Guildhall has some pretty big connections with [national entertainment company] Live Nation.

‘I want us to go out into Portsmouth and find local talent.

‘These are tough times and I think it’s important to keep the city alive and vibrant, and use culture as an economic tool.’


Steve Pitt is the promotions manager for The Cellars at Eastney and the chairman of the Portsmouth Cultural Partnership. With the changing state of the economy and the rise of social networking, he thinks it’s almost impossible to predict the city’s cultural future.

Steve explains: ‘We are in massively changing times. With everything that is happening with social networking, no-one knows where to look for what is going on. I just don’t think we can think of an answer.’

Many people in the city try to get events off the ground, but Steve believes they suffer because there’s not enough support.

He says: ‘Portsmouth has people trying to get things moving, but the real problem is that people don’t come out and support stuff.’

One example is the Sunday Bandstand on the seafront, which features different music each weekend throughout the summer.

Steve says: ‘There are 200,000 people in this city, so there should be about 20,000 down at the bandstand each weekend. But there aren’t.

‘I don’t know why people who actually live in the city, from postcodes PO1 to PO5, don’t support the local culture, such as the music venues and comedy clubs. It’s been a problem for the past 40 years or so.’


Julian Wadsworth runs the RESPECT programme, part of Portsmouth Sports and Education Foundation, which is a sports and leisure programme for young people. He was awarded an MBE for his work with the charity and will be speaking at tomorrow’s conference about community-based sports and provision of the arts.

He says: ‘I’ve got a passion for community-based sports and arts, to support partnership work and work with organisations to help the community.

‘The community can use sports and arts as a way to engage all young people and get them involved and build positive relationships.

He adds: ‘It’s not just about young offenders. It’s about people from any background getting involved.’

In terms of culture in the city, Julian believes it’s vital to get young people involved, especially in sport, even though many people don’t automatically associate it with culture.

He explains: ‘In terms of the local culture offered, the arts-based projects are really really good. There are sports-based activities that actively engage with young people too.

‘Sport is part of culture, yet sometimes it gets left out of the picture. But it has a strong community aspect to it.’