Running an arts venue means you often spend lots of time dealing with the day to day minutiae of life – grant applications, ticketing, systems, staff appraisals and toilets. And it’s sometimes easy to forget that our impact is wider than we can ever know
But just sometimes we have a series of circumstances, which allow us to find out what we really mean to the people who come through our doors, and to the people who see our building and our programme as a significant contribution to their community and their cultural lives.
We’ve been running our #RichMixMatters campaign over Twitter for sometime now, gathering support and wonderful comments from the public. Our online petition to save Rich Mix from closure went live on change.org in March and we have been overwhelmed by the responses.
People have signed in their thousands: 12,000 and counting! We were so moved in fact that we decided to project the comments onto the front of our building on Monday night and invite friends, stakeholders, journalists and yes, Tower Hamlets, along to see these words of support writ large.
It’s no secret that we’re in litigation with the London Borough of Tower Hamlets – or more accurately that Tower Hamlets is in litigation with Rich Mix (they started it!). This last few months we’ve made it our mission not to allow the situation to be a secret, because I really do believe that when we’re open, good things can happen.
To give some context, the dispute is over the repayment of £850,000 that Tower Hamlets paid to Rich Mix before my time as chief executive, over ten years ago, to help get the organisation on its feet. It is to the glory of neither party that it was never agreed in writing whether the money was a loan, a grant, or forward funding, remarkable as that may sound.
However, we have been open with Tower Hamlets in saying that we will view it as a loan and make repayments over a period of time. The council has rejected this resolution, insisting it’s paid back in one go, which Rich Mix simply cannot afford to do. And so we are to go to court at great expense to the tax payer – a recent FOI request revealed the council estimates it will have spent around £54,000 on external legal fees, never mind the cost of its own legal staff. We’re fortunate enough to have found pro bono support from the marvellous legal firm Latham & Watkins – without which I daresay we would have gone bust long before now.
Since we started our #RichMixMatters campaign we have heard from whole swathes of our audiences and visitors – from older people, the very young, families and artists. To pick just one comment, which we beamed onto the front of our building: “I teach in a Tower Hamlets primary school and I have seen how much children from the borough enjoy taking part in events and performances at Rich Mix”, well it makes a person feel very humbled.
When we started on this route, I hadn’t anticipated such an outpouring of support and emotion, and to see how much people value the way in which arts enrich the lives of people regardless of age, ethnicity, gender or disability. It’s been a real boost to have this feedback. And times like Monday night only serve to fuel our fire, so lets keep celebrating the enormous gift we all receive from our creative sector – and let’s start measuring and celebrating experiences and love just as much as numbers and appraisals!
You can sign the petition to save Rich Mix here
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