Portsmouth launches major new group to help the city secure millions of pound to pay for new arts events

MILLIONS of pounds could soon be pumped into Portsmouth in a bid to create the city’s biggest cultural boom in a generation.

By Tom Cotterill
Thursday, 21st March 2019, 10:51 am
Updated Thursday, 21st March 2019, 10:56 am
Victorious Festival's James Ralls is one of the brains behind Portsmouth Creates. Picture: Vernon Nash (180424-0746)
Victorious Festival's James Ralls is one of the brains behind Portsmouth Creates. Picture: Vernon Nash (180424-0746)

A massive £300,000 is being invested into setting up a two-year project looking to unite all the city’s leading cultural figures under one banner.

Known as Portsmouth Creates, it’s hoped the group will be the key to unlocking lucrative arts grants which the city has traditionally been poor at securing.

In the past three years Portsmouth has clinched £2,073,524 in arts grants compared to £14,165,593 in Southampton over the same period.

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The group – funded by Victorious Festival, Portsmouth City Council and the Arts Council England – will be tasked with developing a cultural strategy to bring in extra cash to the city.

James Ralls, Victorious founder, has spearheaded the project and said it had the potential to be a game-changer for the area.

He said: ‘This could be massive for Portsmouth. We could create jobs, bring in money to the city and create new opportunities for people. I’m really excited about it.’

To get the proposal off the ground, Victorious and the Arts Council commissioned a report into the city’s current cultural prospects.

About 50 of the city’s top arts and heritage leaders, as well as politicians and education leaders, were quizzed on the areas that needed to be improved and addressed.

Erica Smith, director of Portsmouth Festivities, who was among those questioned.

She said there was ‘absolutely no question’ Portsmouth needed more ‘cultural investment’ and was ‘100 per cent behind’ the new plan.

But she said people had to play their part in making its two-year trial a success.

‘We all need to play a part in this and support it and not just expect radical change to happen overnight,’ she said.‘Everyone needs to get behind this.

‘Portsmouth Creates will be the driving force but as part of the cultural sector we can’t expect radical change to instantly happen. We need to be there to support it.’

The 37-page report into the idea said Portsmouth Creates would not seek to ‘run cultural events’ but that it would look to ‘lead the city’s cultural strategy’.

Among the key aims included focusing on how to develop the island’s creative industries, supporting marginalised communities and working to plan city-wide initiatives and ‘milestone events’.

It also highlighted the new organisation would be made up of a group of 12 leaders and chaired by a ‘high-profile’ individual with ‘national and international connections’.

Councillor Steve Pitts, Portsmouth’s culture and leisure boss, said the plan could be massive for the city.

He added the island had previously been guilty of taking its foot off the gas when it came to trying to make the most of its cultural offerings.

But the Lib Dem was convinced things were beginning to change and now urged the city to make the most of its new cultural momentum.

He said: ‘The planets are starting to align around us and we now really have to turn up the heat to make this matter.

‘I would want this to lead to Portsmouth submitting a bid to become the next city of culture in the 2020s – a bid so strong that as soon as other cities heard it they would know they didn’t stand a chance.’

“As I said in my maiden speech in the House of Commons, Portsmouth has long been a city of makers and doers. It is no accident that we are an international home for culture.

Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP, said  ‘The city is long overdue ambitious leadership and a vision for culture in Portsmouth. I therefore welcome this helpful report and its findings, which is a step in the right direction.

‘But Portsmouth now requires less words and more action. Now the issues have been identified, it is essential that action is taken to ensure culture is at the heart of rebuilding our communities and  creating a city which works for everyone.’

In August 2017 the Arts Council granted £15,000 to Victorious to develop a cultural strategy for Portsmouth

Phil Gibby, south west area director, Arts Council England, said: ‘The Arts Council are committed to supporting Portsmouth’s cultural development and welcome the emergence of Portsmouth Creates.

‘We are in the process of finalising the details of our financial commitment, to be confirmed over the coming months.’

The new group is still in the early stages of setting up its infrastructure and leadership. However, it’s hoped it will be operational come summer.

Mr Ralls said the team would start by looking at setting up and sourcing funding for one major event - a project which would take more than a year.

If this was successful he hoped to be able to extend its two-year trial period to five, and create more major events in the city.

The festival boss is now eager to hear from groups and individuals about areas or events they would like to see.

‘We’re still in the early days of development so we really don’t know where things will go,’ he said. ‘But it’s crucial we have Portsmouth’s support.’

To send ideas for the project, email [email protected]