We need an Arts & Sciences agenda for the Island. Arts raises aspiration and education, helps enrich life, supports regeneration and job creation as well as helping health and wellbeing. It also boosts the tourism economy.
We should be one of Britain’s leading cultural destinations. The Lake District had one poet - Wordsworth - and has 20 million visitors. The Island has had poets, painters, artists and thinkers here for two centuries and yet we seem, by an act of almost wilful neglect, to have forgotten that. We between two and two and a half million visitors.
Our Island has inspired some of the greatest poetry ever written and some of the greatest paintings painted. From the late 18thcentury, for a period of nearly 200 years, the Island was a source of inspiration for artists, and an artists’ retreat from mainland Britain. Apart from Scotland and London, no single British county was as importantto landscape art and landscape poetry, and apart from West Cornwall, no part of Britain’s coast has been as painted as the south of the Island around Ventnor and the Undercliff.
JWM Turner sketched and painted on the Island. Alfred Tennyson, the greatest poet of the 19thcentury, lived here for much of his life. Keats spent time on the Island and Endymion, one of the most famous poems in the English language, was inspired by Shanklin Chine. Edward Lear taught Queen Victoria to paint here. Julia Margaret Cameron pioneered portrait photography in Freshwater. Miles Birkett Foster and the pre-Raphealites produced art here too. Many other remarkable artists, lesser known today but important to Britain’s poetry tradition, found inspiration here. You can see and hear the Island, its landscape and people in many of their works.
And in science too, the Island has a remarkable tradition. The first telegraph station was built by Marconi at St Catherine’s Down, the blue streak rocket system was fired off the Needles Battery, sea planes were designed and built on the Island as well as the first hovercraft.
Cultural tourism is increasingly important. It is a driver of prosperity. Yet whilst other areas of Britain famed for their artistic legacies have used them to attract visitors and create an identity, we have - shamefully - failed to sufficiently celebrate ours. St. Ives in West Cornwall now has Tate St. Ives, which attracts over 200,000 visitors a year and brings in £11 million to the local economy. In addition, arts jobs pay above the national average, are more resilient in downturns and art provides psychological and health benefits. It enriches our lives in many ways.
So what could our arts agenda look like?
Well, the first thing I wanted to achieve was to persuade Arts Council England to name the Island as a priority investment area. They did so last year. This means that they will look more favourably on applications from Island projects. We also need to make our arts projects and centres on the Island more resilient and better organised collectively. Therefore, we need to develop an arts and museums partnership. Cornwall is the model for this and I am delighted to say that this important move is now underway thanks to leadership in the arts community.
More generally, I believe alongside the higher education campus in Newport Harbour, we need the development of an arts quarter, indeed the quarter would be integral to the campus as a centre of learning.
Second, we need to deepen our relationships with national galleriesand get them to do more on the Island. They receive hundreds of millions of pounds in public support; very little of which has ever been spent in the Isle of Wight. Yet parts of their collections come from the Island or have been inspired by it: be they Turner’s water colours and oils, or the vast collection of dinosaur bones held by the National History Museum. And surely, the natural home of a V&A satellite museum should be at Osborne House?
Preferably, I would like the Island to be able to attract a significant satellite gallery, but at the very least we need to deepen our relationships with our national institutions and get more out of them for the Island.