Letters, September 30, 2010, part three

Unprofessional way for council to act

SIR – This is an open letter to Cllr Sheila Burton, portfolio holder for culture and heritage, and Richard Shwe, St Albans council’s head of culture and community development, re: The Big Project – St Albans Old Town Hall, Saturday, September 18.

You don’t know me... but I was involved in The Big Project which launched an initiative called Creative St Albans at the Old Town Hall in St Albans on Saturday, September 18. Cllr Melvyn Teare came to our private view on the Friday night.

The Big Project was an idea originated by Joel Baillie-Lane (STARTS and Vice Chair of Creative St Albans) and along with a small group of volunteers he created a steering group who were fundamentally passionate about the arts and whose agreed aim was to try involve the whole community in a celebration of all the arts. The venue was to be the Old Town Hall, so the preparations began and six months (of volunteering) later when preparations for the event were about to begin, Joel Baillie-Lane was denied access to the Old Town Hal. In fact, he had to be escorted into the building the next day by the bailiffs to reclaim his private belongings. He was also told he would not able to attend the private view or indeed come into the building on the Saturday! This came as a complete shock to all of us. We needed access to the Town Hall but more importantly, we needed Joel as our front runner and organiser of the whole event.

As I’m sure you know, the Bailiffs were sent in to the Old Town Hall on Wednesday, September 15, on instruction from the council and all access to the Town Hall was denied. I had arranged with all the 14 art and photographic groups (from all over St Albans and district) to come on that day between 10am-3pm (my own time given up for this) to deliver their artwork for the exhibition.

Christiane Kubrick, a well-renowned local artist, had arranged to have her artwork hung on the Wednesday and needless to say, with no access to the building, we lost the opportunity to exhibit her work. My exhibition schedule was disrupted and because of the lack of information and the appalling treatment of Joel no-one will know just how close I came to cancelling the art and photography exhibition, the crafts people and the community drawing marathon all of which had taken me six months of careful preparation, developing relationships with people I didn’t know, constant liaising to build trust and commitment etc.

In the end I didn’t cancel because I didn’t want to let those people down and acting in what I call “a professional manner”.

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I have never worked for St Albans District Council before in any capacity or been involved with anything they have done but I have worked for many years in television. In all my working years I have never been treated so unprofessionally as I was that week, and what makes it worse is that I am a volunteer!

My only aim was to bring art to the community and involve the community in the arts. I feel that the council has acted in the most unprofessional manner and behaved in the most appalling way. It leaves me to question, was this an attempt by the council to sabotage this event or just sheer incompetence and bad timing?

I don’t expect an answer to this letter as I’m sure that the council will justify its reasons why such an aggressive action took place but I would like an answer to one question – could this hostile action have taken place on the following Monday after our event? In my opinion this would have avoided a tremendous amount of bad feeling that pervaded the launch day amongst people who, at the end of the day, are simply volunteering their time and energies and who genuinely wanted to develop a good and happy relationship between the arts and the community. Despite all this, the day was a tremendous success but what a price to pay.


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