On the Cultural Quarter – from The Art House blog

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

SeaCity, the cultural quarter and ‘Can’t we all just be positive about this’…. a (fairly short and chilled out) rant.

OK, so we are a positive kinda place. We like to promote stuff we like, we like to say ‘YES’ and ‘WHOOP’ a lot. We like to encourage, believe in the best possibilities and trust in people’s intentions.

You may say we are dreamers……we hope we’re not the only ones…..

Sometimes, I think Southampton may be ‘The Whingey City’, especially when you get a bunch of us creative types in a room on the subject of ‘the Cultural Quarter’. Thing is, I’m starting to feel that the negativity just really ain’t getting us terribly far.

Last week, the new SeaCity Museum opened just a block away from us. A very different sort of place to ours, of course, starting with the £15M price tag. It’s all part of a long-planned creation of a ‘Cultural Quarter’ in our neck of the woods, which will eventually embrace many of the current venues (City Art Gallery, Mayflower, the new SeaCity Museum, the Guildhall and Guildhall Square, the new Millais Gallery opposite us – and perhaps somewhat less officially as we’re independent venues, not allied to the council: The Art House and our neighbours over the square, The Cellar. There are also plans, quite a way along now, for an Arts Complex on the old Tyrell and Green site, which will house (we hope) John Hansard Gallery, theatre spaces and City Eye – not to mention programming by Art Asia and the Nuffield Theatre.

OK, so this plan is taking a bloomin’ long time – it’s positively glacial in it’s progress and that’s no lie. Yes indeed, it’s costing a lot of dosh to make happen and public dosh is in short supply. Fair enough, we often think fondly of the Gantry and wonder why it’s been such a long wait…………. and still waiting………… for an Arts Centre in a city our size. Yup, we were as annoyed as many people were when Art Asia lost their dedicated space in the complex – and we said so, and spread the petition (whoop, there it is again!).

Thing is, we LIKE culture and heritage…. ’tis our purpose, our passion, our raison d’etre if you will! Whilst we’re not going to go nodding our heads at every scheme the council come up with, we have to speak out and give praise where praise is due.

We’ve had a little gander at SeaCity and, we’re just going to come out and say this – it’s pretty darn impressive. It works well as an interactive, world class museum space which tells the story not just of Titanic (though it does that, very well) but the whole of the city’s Maritime history. So, when we shout about it on facebook, it’s not because they’ve paid us to (they haven’t) or just because it’ll do us good to bring people into the area (of course it will – but it also has it’s own in house cafe!), but because we took a look and we liked what we saw, and wanted you to get there and enjoy it (if history is your thing).

Seeing SeaCity turn out so nicely, well, it’s made us feel a tad optimistic about the other plans. We dare to hope it’s a sign of things to come. This makes us feel a little thrill of happiness, right here in our hearts. It does.

We also know quite a few of the people involved with Art at the Heart, a project to get the ball rolling on the cultural quarter, which has already organised some spiffing events. They are good folks, they care about art, they work their socks off and – most importantly – they’ve delivered some quality arts events to our neighbourhood. So yes, we say nice stuff about them too – cos we mean it!

Thing is, it’s a pretty tall order to bring together the cultural life of a city. We could sit here and point fingers at the mistakes made along the way, or we could cheer the successes and hope for more of them. We think Southampton deserves a better cultural scene, or at least a more cohesive one – we don’t really see why we can’t be as cool as Brighton or Bristol (without the high property prices). We reckon if we ALL pull together as a city and (dare we say it?) be positive about what’s happening, things may get pretty darn exciting around these parts as the next few years go by. We also reckon it’s a foregone conclusion that if we continue to complain in chorus about how it’s all so dreadful, things will pretty much stay as they are.

Oh – and we don’t think it’s the “council’s job” to make things arty, we think it’s something the whole community needs to rise up and make happen. Or we may get another shopping centre. Just sayin’, is all.

There’s already a lot going on, a huge amount has been achieved to date and it’s looking good for the future. We like to shout about the good stuff – who’s with us?!

On Entitlement and the Stoics.

It’s been occurring to me rather a lot lately that much of the misery in our culture, often ascribed to ‘attachment’ would actually be better described by ‘entitlement’.

Attachment has never been a word which sits comfortably with me as a means to describe the problem. Until pretty recently, ‘attachment’ meant you cared about something or somebody (Jane Austen said it a lot – oh, she’s forming an attachment to so-and-so). This kind of attachment is an experience which I value highly – as do most people.

Telling me I should be ‘non-attached’ just put my back up, to be honest! I also came across a lot of people who used ‘non-attachment’ and ‘living in the moment’ as justifications for mistreating others, breaking promises, acting selfishly and just being downright fickle and all round ghastly.

So. The other day I’m pondering the revelatory nature of facebook, where people often wade into arguments (or start them) uninvited and reveal some pretty interesting stuff. A lot of the whining I’ve seen seems to link to people having a sense of ‘entitlement’.

It works a bit like this – somebody sets off with this core belief:-

‘I am special, I deserve special treatment, I am ENTITLED to be treated well, dammit!’

Trouble is, that’s sort of made up in our heads isn’t it?! Nobody else agreed to go along with this scenario. Nobody went ‘Oh yes, I’m going to bend over backwards to make your life a peachy peachy ride of fun and frolics’. Did they? Well, not in the usual run of events anyway. Not since maybe our Mums when we were two, if we had particularly awesome Mums.

So, we start with this expectation, this sense that we are entitled to something – except that the only trouble is, we totally aren’t. When we don’t get what we ‘deserve’, boy are we upset. We rant, we rave, we throw lego…….and we feel pretty terrible. It’s all so unfair. I’m going to shout and stamp my foot about it. I am.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for making other’s lives a jolly funfair experience. It’s what I do for a living….. I’m all for fair treatment, random acts of kindness, generosity. These things make the world go round, fill us to overflowing with pink radiant yumminess and cause us to skip with joy. It’s just that there’s a world of difference between me sharing that which is awesome freely, and somebody EXPECTING ME TO.

Take relationships. In my experience, things start to go wrong the minute you’re no longer giving freely of your time, energy and self…. when it’s expected of you. You’re my girlfriend/wife therefore you must ………………

That just takes ALL the fun out of it, right? It starts to feel like a JOB, right?!

The stoics were pretty interesting people. The word ‘stoic’ has come to mean something slightly different, but I like what they believed. They said that unhappiness is caused by the illusion that you have control over things you don’t, and can’t, control. They made a handy little list that went like this:-


Our judgement and opinions.
Our desires.
Our ability to move towards things (adversion).
Our ability to move away from things (aversion).


Our bodies.
Other people (what they think/do/say).
Our reputation.
Our material goods.
Our money.
Our worldly power.

(in short, everything else!)

I was thinking, the sense on ‘entitlement’ is the illusion that we control other people, how they treat us, what the world gives us. When this proves to be nonsense, we get unhappy. The Stoics (and several other philosophies) have this wise advice – get real about what you are ‘entitled’ to (nothing) and quit expecting the world to be different from what it really is 🙂

“Where is the good? In the will. Where is the evil? In the will. Where is neither of them? In those things that are independent of the will.” Marcus Aurelius