The Parish Council

Lara Medlam laments the lack of arts spaces in York

Image: Alexander P Kapp

Image: Alexander P Kapp

York’s art scene all too frequently feels rather parched. Yes, the university fuels events, but that fizzing underbelly, that feeling that electric things happen and are free to happen, is absent. Of course, we’re all aware that York isn’t exactly dripping with alternative spirit, but it’s a town with character and potential, and enough people who want to do interesting things, surely?

Take The Parish. Whether you’ve been or not, we all know that bar, nestled incongruously in an 11th century church on Micklegate. It changed hands in August, and was sold to the Cairn Group, a Newcastle-based company with a ‘diverse hotel, bar and restaurant portfolio’. So it looks as if The Parish will remain a venue focused on tourists and profits, proffering a bland, pseudo ‘lifestyle glam’ night out.

What you probably didn’t know is that between 1968 and 1999, that very building was York Arts Centre. Many people, both locals and former students, reminisce fondly; it seems as though when people reflect on their stomping grounds, these recollections are the sweetest of all. Think back to when you’ve seen bands, felt the electricity, known that the explicit purpose of a place is to experience something fuelled by creativity and enthusiasm.

Whilst some organisations certainly want to recreate that, they usually lack the space. And even when an option presents itself, it’s not feasible. For instance, consider the old fire station opposite Clifford’s Tower. In a year it will be demolished and the land used for housing. Currently, it’s a raw, versatile space that drips with potential and a few events have been held there. However, although there were many more in the works, York Council have pulled the late licences. And a ‘late licence’ only covers the hours between 8 and 11pm – anything beyond that is wholly unobtainable. It seems that above all the council prioritises an easy ride, free from noise complaints. Tell that to the stag and hen parties…

Of course, such issues often boil down to basic economics. Arts is far from a profitable
area, but can offer so much more than its pecuniary value. Yes, York is great for tourists, but it would be encouraging to know that venues are supported in the interests of actual people who live here. The lack of a dedicated arts space seems a crying shame. York is full of interesting spaces with unrealised potential, and the desire, enthusiasm and ingenuity is all there. Yet when obtaining a licence becomes a nigh on impossible task, that all counts for nothing.

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