Brighton & Hove Arts & Creative Industries Commission develops policy, raises funds, provides advice and delivers programmes.

Every month commission member Adam Trimingham will be writing a brief feature on a key cultural organisation in the city.  This month he turns his spotlight on to Phoenix Brighton.

  • JACKIE’S FOND FAREWELL

    Jackie Lythell, founding chair of the Arts & Creative Industries Commission, has retired after ten years in the post.

    At the December meeting she was presented with theatre tickets and flowers as a thank you from her colleagues for the successful work she had done. They said she had been outstanding.

    Jackie, a former Mayor of Brighton, said in her farewell speech: “Chairing the commission has been both stimulating and enjoyable.  It has been a pleasure to work with such creative, positive and thoughtful people.”

    She said that during the 2002 'Where Else' campaign to support the city's bid to be the Capital of Culture, about 1,600 people attended various events as part of the Try it for the First Time scheme.

    Many community arts grants were given and over 8,000 people attended the open day. Hugely well attended events took place in the parks and on the beach.

    As a result of that successful year, even though Brighton lost out to Liverpool, the city was awarded £750,000 by the Government to deliver a two-year arts programme. With amazing sponsorship that sum swelled to £2m.

    She said: “Building on the partnerships that had been made in 2002 a wonderful programme was created.

    “It included Celebrating Age, increased public art, the Children’s Festival, new commissions, including the stunning Compton Skyline project, and support for grass roots projects.”

    “The work of the newly formed Arts Commission was under way, planning workshops, developing arts policy and setting up working parties.”

    A working party on outdoor events led to the White Night celebrations in October and two new courses, one at City College and the other at Northbrook College.

    The Audience working group lead to new ways of promoting events. The Visual Arts network was created and is still going.

    Another report on dance crystallised the thinking around its development in the city while Music in Brighton gave a detailed picture of the wealth and variety of music-making.

    The Cultural Cities network kept members in touch with what was going on nationally and in Europe. The Culture Counts document paved the way to the Commission's place on the Brighton & Hove Strategic Partnership.

    She said: “I have seen and done some wonderful things during the ten years, from high art to the unusual -  what in our house we call ‘up the chimney productions’.”

    This started when someone on stage during an odd production suddenly disappeared up a chimney.

    Jackie added: “There have been events that have left a lasting, profound impression and those I have left doubled up with laughter for all the wrong reasons.

    “I decided to stand down at the beginning of the year and if I had any doubt about that decision it was confirmed by the outstanding Brighton Fuse Research Project and the need for a new chair to develop the super fused work ahead.”

    She congratulated the commission for its members’ expertise and said she was simply a member of the audience who would continue to watch what was going on.

    Andrew Comben, Chief Executive of Brighton Dome & Festival, is taking her place as chair.

  • Phoenix Brighton

    When it was built in the 1970s, the office block almost opposite The Level was given the award of the ugliest building in Brighton.

    The façade is still nothing to write home about but it hides much beauty created by 100 artists who now use the building as studios.

    Phoenix Brighton is the largest artist-led arts organisation in the south east and inside the building pulsates with energy.

    Run as a not-for-profit organisation, it provides city centre space for artists at a cost most can afford. There are trustees, who include some artists, and skilled staff.

    Phoenix started in 1991 using the building which was no longer offices on a temporary basis because demolition seemed likely.

        But the bulldozers never arrived and in 1996 Phoenix made the bold decision to buy the freehold with help from Brighton Council and the Single Regeneration Budget.

    The building was converted into studios and modernised. There was an immediate, unquenchable demand for them.

    Two main galleries were created and other space is also available for exhibitions. Rooms are also available for hire.

    Running a diverse organisation like Phoenix Brighton with scores of different opinions can be hard work –like herding cats.

    Development manager David Litchfield makes no secret of this problem but says all the artists are committed to the ideals that have always guided Phoenix of imagination and innovation.

    Exhibitions are held regularly and admission is free. The next one up is the 2013 Brighton Photo Fringe, now ten years old.

    It is described as a dynamic platform for lens based artists in the heart of the city with displays and events throughout November.

    Headlining this month is OPEN’13, showcasing the best emerging photographers selected from open submission by a panel of experts. Running alongside is an exhibition featuring work by Phoenix Brighton artists.

    Phoenix Brighton’s arts courses provide a unique mix of high quality workshops aimed at practicing and aspiring artists and art lovers.

    They are suitable for anyone who wants to learn new skills from professional artists and would like to meet likeminded people in a supportive and creative environment.

    Phoenix normally provide all the basic materials. All courses are aimed at adults in subjects ranging from textiles to puppetry.

    Course fees are kept as low as possible to encourage everyone to participate in the arts, including those on low incomes but not eligible for benefits, such as many artists.  Many courses are extremely popular and sell out quickly.

    Most people in Brighton probably have no idea of what goes on behind the rather bleak façade of the Phoenix building.. But it is well worth having a look when an exhibition is being staged.

    There have been plans to rebuild the façade and make it more beautiful but it is unlikely that enough money will be available for this in the foreseeable future.

    Instead improvements will be made to the existing frontage to make the building more welcoming and accessible instead of being an artistic secret.

    More information on www.phoenixbrighton.org

     

    Adam Trimingham

  • Brighton Festival

    For many years now, Brighton Festival has been the biggest in England with hundreds of events lasting for most of May.

    This year more than any other with guest director Michael Rosen, it has taken on an international theme.

    Rosen, a Jewish writer best known as a broadcaster and acclaimed children’s novelist, is particularly keen on the classic story Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner.

    This unusually realistic novel for children, written in 1929, is set in Berlin and was a major success, translated into 60 languages.

    Rosen, a former Children’s Laureate, says: “Emil and the Detectives represents for me something personal and political, conjuring up a time that is easily forgotten in the era after its publication.

    “So you will spot, I hope, connections with the ’moment of Emil’ throughout the Festival.

    “The book expresses hope, invention, dissent cooperation and originality, set mostly in a great city, and perhaps you’ll find these ideas running through the events too.

    “In this time, more than 80 years later, these ideas are not optional. They are what we urgently need.”

    A good example of new work with international appeal is the UK premiere of Cirkopolis by Cirque Eloize from Montreal in Canada, a visual spectacular with music, acrobatics and dance fused into a dazzling stream of images at the Dome.

    Then there is We’re Gonna Die by Young Jean’s theatre company from New York, a weird and wonderful look at the fate that awaits us all.

    Another exhilarating work from New York is Beowulf – A Thousand Years of Baggage – a modern take on the famous Old English poem.

    My Life After by Lola Arias from Buenos Aires has Argentinian actors reconstructing their parents’ lives using anything at hand from memories to photographs.

    Andrew Comben, Festival chief executive, said: “I would like to emphasise partnership working in the city exemplified by Fabrica, Lighthouse, the University of Brighton, House and The Basement.”

    This has ensured a wide range of artistic endeavour presented in venues ranging from former churches to an old printing works.

    There are plenty of events with broad appeal, starting with the children’s parade, and many of them are free.

    The Festival remains strong on classical music with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Elias String Quartet among the attractions.

    There is also a wealth of contemporary music ranging from Sinead O’Connor to the 75th birthday celebrations of jazzman Herbie Flowers.

    The books and debate programme has everything from Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger on his efforts to play a fiendishly difficult piano piece by Chopin to Lionel Shriver in  Who Needs Another Book?

    As befits the birthplace of film, there’s a good international cinema programme including a version of Emil and the Detectives (he pops up all over the place).

    A theatrical highlight will be King Lear by the Globe Theatre on tour while Daniel Kitson   has a new stand up show about memory and imagination.

    There’s also many chances to meet some of the artistes who will be giving their best in Brighton.

    Free programmes are available and there are details on brightonfestival.org. The Festival runs from May 4-26.

     

    More information is on www.brightonfestival.org

     

  • Brighton Fringe

    Figures say it all about the remarkable Brighton Fringe this year. It will last 30 days for the first time, covering most of May and the start of June.

    There will be 692 events and 3,213 performances including 210 premieres.

    If anyone wanted to see the whole lot, he or she would face nonstop entertainment for several months.

    There is the welcome return of the Spiegel tent and another 30 new venues have been added to the scores of regulars.

    They include a car in the park of Varndean School, Speakers’ Corner in New Road, the Brighton and Hove wood recycling project, Concorde 2 and a marquee on Hove Lawns. There are shows junkshops and even in a Salvation Army hall.

    Stars include veteran actress Honor Blackman and Phil Kay as well as hundreds of others, searching for the big time.

    Large audiences are expected for established favourites such as the Lady Boys of Bangkok but another show is so small the audience will consist of one child plus minder.

    You can even invite an actor to your own house for a show about funerals or see a puppet version of Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.

    There’s been an explosion in puppetry this year with plenty of shows for children but others which are strictly for adults.

    Brighton wouldn’t be Brighton without a good sprinkling of entertainment by the lesbian, gay and transgender community.

    There is also a strong concentration on disability with the first performance of an orchestra for disabled people.

    There are tribute shows to big stars such as Celeste Dion, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Marilyn Monroe and Billie Holiday.

    Plenty of Shakespeare is on offer with The Tempest proving most popular this year. There’s a wide selection of music ranging from contemporary to strictly classical.

    Tours are as varied as ever with the most in demand being underground to see the splendid Victorian sewers of Brighton.

    A good starting point is Fringe City each Saturday, a free showcase of events in New Road.

    Managing director Julian Caddy said: “As anyone can take part, it creates a unique environment each year.”

    Chair Heather James said: “This year our festival runs for an extra week to include the half term holiday and we're delighted that ticket sales are already 50% up compared to the same time last year.

    “We also had our London launch at the Soho Theatre last month which gave us the opportunity to take a showcase of Brighton Fringe to London audiences, partners and press

    “In particular, we have been proactively developing relationships with foreign embassies, high commissions and their cultural departments many of whom sent representatives to the London launch.

    “This work has already started to pay off and we have several international companies appearing at Brighton Fringe festival this year

    Brighton Fringe has grown so significantly since we became an independent charity and company in 2006.  The festival itself is now the largest in England but we provide services and support to the artistic community throughout the year.

    “We made a change in our name to better reflect this. We dropped the word festival and became Brighton Fringe Limited.”

    The Fringe is growing so fast that some statistics will already be out of date by the time you read this.”

    More information is on www.brightonfringe.org

  • The Basement

    The Basement - Six times a day, people in the North Laine area of Brighton used to hear a mighty roaring noise. A few streets away it sounded like distant thunder but the nearer you were to Kensington Street, the more awesome the noise became. And if you were in the great red brick building which housed the Argus newspaper, the whole structure shook each time the printing press produced an edition. That noise was stilled for the last time 20 years ago when the Argus decamped from its island site and moved to the wilds of Hollingbury. But in part of the area where the press stood there is now a thriving organisation leading the way in contemporary art and drama. Called The Basement, it has been running for ten years, the last five on the current site.

    Artistic director Helen Medland has an unusual background. She was a nurse who came from a family in Norfolk dedicated to nursing. Having decided she wouldn’t make a career in caring, Helen moved to Brighton with its pulsating arts scene and joined the Festival Fringe. Unhappily it was at that awkward time in the 1990s when briefly there were two fringes amid a lot of artistic animosity. Armed wth just £5,000, she gathered a small, dedicated team around her to open The Basement site as an artistic centre. Half a decade and half a million pounds later, Brighton was home to one of the most welcoming and intriguing spaces available. “Our mission was clear,” said Helen in the underground centre a few feet below pavement level. “It was to present the most thrilling and ground-breaking contemporary performance around and support the artists that make it.”

    A radical innovation this March has been  Sick! - a two week long international arts festival exploring new ways of dealing with illness. The festival, which ends on March 16, includes dance, film,  music, comedy,  debate and talk featuring both artists and health professionals. It is so big that it has spilled over from The Basement  to other venues including The Old Market in Hove and  Duke’s at Komedia in Brighton.

    The Basement is heavily involved wth both the Brighton Festival and the Fringe (now happily only one) in May. It is highlighting a number of  UK premieres including some artists from  cither countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands.

    The Basement also presents  entertainment and artistic installations at Jubilee Square, the attractive  open space in the city’s cultural quarter  by the central library. It’s a welcoming, sunny spot attracting many passers by who might not normally attend a performance.

    Just one example of Festival fare at The Basement is Major Tom, featuring Victoria Melody as Mrs Brighton. She enters beauty contests while her faithful hound enters dog shows in an amusing but rather disturbing evening.

    The Basement has also forged links with other performance venues in the UK and abroad to share ideas and innovate.

    It is available to hire as a venue for anything from weddings to conferences.  There is also The Secret Restaurant which offers tasty and imaginative food.

    Located in the heart of the North Laine, The Basement  is five minutes' walk from Brighton Station but can be hard to find. Look for Kensington Street and it is on the east side.

    You can’t hear the printing press any more but the buzz of conversation and laughter at shows are the pleasant sounds that have taken its place.

    Contact www.thebasement.uk.com     

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