Arts and culture: Transporting Boston's heritage and boosting the community
All photos of the completed Dolphin Lane Project courtesy of Sophie Arnold, Marketing and Communications Coordinator, Transported
As 'we' as a county and a visitor economy, begin to navigate our way along the road to place-based understanding it is becoming dramatically apparent how vital investment in our arts and culture is. It's no secret that as a whole the arts and culture attractions in our towns and cities provide a huge pull for inward visitors as well as investment.
On the Lincolnshire coast, for example, partnerships have been key to the South and East Lincolnshire Council Partnership not only recognising the need for quality arts and culture visitor experiences but putting plans in place to ensure the need is fully understood. In her recent address to the Westminster Forum on the role of arts and culture in levelling up, Lydia Rusling, Assistant Director of Economic Growth at South & East Lincolnshire Councils Partnership said: "The catalyst of the Town Deal had established a Connected Coast Board – a collection of representatives from both the public and private sectors. Our relationship with Magna Vitae as East Lindsey District Council’s culture and leisure partner was instrumental in establishing a ‘Culture and Development Audit’ – a strong foundation for understanding both the area’s cultural assets and spaces as well as art/cultural organisations, businesses and local creators.
"The Audit drew to our attention the opportunity to diversify and grow cultural activity to service the need of local populations and tourists through delivering both health and economic outcomes that contribute to a prosperous future. Specifically, it highlighted areas such as education, and training. This laid a positive foundation of engagement with the creative industries, and Arts Council England.
"We have established a new Cultural Framework, supported Magna Vitae with hosting the Creative People and Places Conference at the Embassy Theatre in Skegness, and during the development of our Cultural Strategy, we have also applied for National Portfolio Organisation with Arts Council England. Our NPO bid builds on the investment of the town deals and our work with Magna Vitae and the So Festival to bring to life our heritage – both on the Coast and across Lincolnshire – through an artistic and cultural programme."
Investment such as that Lydia has touched upon is vital to encourage long-term collaborations between local communities and arts organisations, museums, libraries and local authorities, empowering them to experiment with radically different approaches and develop inspiring, sustainable arts programmes that will engage audiences in those communities. As Lydia said, "the importance of funding is akin to throwing a stone into the water – without funding or that first stone to cause the ripple effect it’s incredibly hard".
And that is where projects such as Creative People and Places come in. A project which sees the Arts Council deliver £38.3 million in dedicated funding to 39 projects across the UK, Creative People and Places was designed to transform access to arts and culture in places where engagement is lacking so that more communities can choose the creativity and culture on offer in their local area. Out of those 39 projects, eight are located in the East Midlands, including one right here in Lincolnshire titled, Boston and South Holland, Transported.
Transported itself is a strategic, community-focused programme which aims to get more people in Boston Borough and South Holland to enjoy and participate in arts activities. The programme is overseen by the Centre of Culture and Creativity at the University of Lincoln and is funded by the Creative People and Places Fund from Arts Council England.
One facet of Transported, recently completed, is the Dolphin Lane Heritage Mosaic Project – which saw the community create a large, and inspiring, themed mosaic for a public space in the centre of Boston. The Dolphin Lane Project and its subsequent new community group, the Boston School of Mosaic, is made possible thanks to Boston Townscape Heritage Project, Heritage Lincolnshire, National Lottery Heritage Fund, Boston Borough Council, Asda Foundation, East Midlands Railway Community Fund, Fydell House, Laticrete UK, Smartmove Hotels, Arts Council England and Transported.
Boston has a fascinating and frequently overlooked history. Legacies of the rich heritage story of the town are still evident today, alongside nods to Boston’s Pilgrim history, with the mosaic itself now retelling and further adding to the town’s history. During the mosaic’s creation, the courtyard where it is located, temporarily became an artwork space too, featuring changing paste-up exhibitions that explored Boston’s history.
Now complete, the new public artwork reflects the local community and cultural groups, who feature in the mosaic's ‘stained glass windows’ design. The artwork also features this area's unique landscapes and habitats, detailing the flora and fauna of Boston and its surroundings all-in-all transforming the previously disused courtyard into a beautiful space.
Of the project, artist Karen Francesca from Boston School of Mosaic, said: “The quality of the interactions we have had working with local people in Boston has been remarkable. The personalised ceramic tiles we make include the names of loved ones, someone lost, a phrase about the world, or a meaningful pattern. They crystallise feelings and provide an opportunity for their expression no matter how briefly, and we cannot know how frequently these opportunities arise.
“It’s the overlooked parts of the town like this which, like any part of us when neglected, impact overall. By nurturing the space, bringing it to life with plants, and through the telling of stories, and subjective histories, we hope to increase both interest and empathy in public space, thus building ‘social architecture."
Of course, with Transported and indeed the Dolphin Lane Project, not only are we talking about arts and culture but heritage too. When collectively addressed, arts, culture and heritage provide us with an opportunity to address community well-being too.
“A growing body of evidence has demonstrated how heritage, in particular, is beneficial for wellbeing,” The Heritage Alliance stated in its 2020 report. “Heritage and Society (2019), produced by Historic England on behalf of the Historic Environment Forum as part of their Heritage Counts series, found that engaging with or living near heritage is associated with higher life satisfaction and quality of life. Visiting is only one way to access the well-being benefits – heritage offers opportunities for volunteering, involvement in community projects, and treatments for health conditions, and it forms an essential part of the built and natural environments.”
The sentiment and findings in The Heritage Alliance report can easily be transferred to arts and culture, something Destination Lincolnshire Pathfinder, Emma Olivier-Townrow is very passionate about.
“In relation to place and place-making, arts and culture support our communities with mental health, well-being, a sense of purpose, pride in where they live, and it raises engagement. These community-based opportunities - such as Transported - give us the space to express ourselves and our history from a place of safety, and often working within a group. Art breaks barriers, be that age, language or accessibility. It's a leveller and something that can be accessible no matter your skill or ability giving everyone the opportunity to contribute.
"Once we free up the creative flow, we are offered the space and opportunity to produce legacy pieces, just like the Dolphin Lane Heritage Mosaic and Boston Buoys Trail as well as Lincoln's Sincil Bank Art Project. The mosaic especially is a fantastic example of how we can utilise the arts through the community to capture and enjoy local history, people and stories.
"The challenge that we have is to make sure that creative conduit doesn't alienate people. These projects need to be all-inclusive, accessible and open to interpretation. These projects should be there to inspire a reaction from each of us.
"Across Lincolnshire, we have really good creative substance. From science and digital projects to art, music, and performance - we have it all in abundance. But we don't consider ourselves to have it. We need to be able to be bolder and more confident with what we have to offer, build on our humility and take more advantage of the doors that are open to us. Because once you scratch the surface, there is a lot to uncover.
"If we're trying to encourage more people to work, play and stay in the county we need to focus on what brings people to the area in the first place. Creative events, performances, theatre, festivals, exhibitions... They're the things that bring back visitors, investors and they grow advocates as they showcase the counties finest assets, innovations and heritage.”