I have always been passionate about great art and culture being accessible, located in and exhibited in rural locations. I didn’t feel the pull to move to London when I left university and, despite being told I would, I have rarely felt left out living in rural locations – in fact I have felt very fortunate. I have spent the past ten years living and working in Cumbria, and the cultural offer I have found has been one of variety, quality and relevance.
During my Clore Leadership Fellowship, my work placement was at Sadler’s Wells Theatre and for three months I based myself in London, soaking up the capital’s cultural scene. I visited performances of theatre, dance, music and musicals, I attended debates and lectures, and I viewed exhibitions. Accessing and seeing great art and culture is easy and convenient in London, as with many cities, but what if you don’t want to live or work in a city and instead choose a more rural location? Does that therefore mean the cultural offer is narrowed in content and limited in field? I would argue not.
I will discuss that museums and galleries, particularly in rural areas, are among some of the finest in the country. These venues display a broad range of nationally and internationally significant collections alongside high quality temporary exhibitions featuring major loans, and they provide important creative hubs actively used by local communities to come together and discuss and respond to contemporary issues. Museums and galleries also contribute widely to the creative industry case, helping to generate significant sources of income, employment and business in rural locations. In addition, research indicates that there is a shift as people are choosing to vacate major cities, moving instead to the countryside and more rural locations for health, wellbeing and financial reasons. Finally, as one of the few female leaders in Cumbria, I want to encourage more leaders, especially female, to embrace living and forging a career in rural locations to help address the current gender imbalance.