I was at a presentation of the RE:NEW project today at the Rotary Club of Chester‘s regular Monday meeting.  The presentation was given by Graham Lister, development director for the project, who bravely fought off an incipient migraine and gave a fascinating overview of the building.

As its many spaces within spaces were unfolded, it seemed to me that we were witnessing a kind of Lego for adults: a sophisticated maximising of the existing environment as given, it is true – but simultaneously, quite definitely, a statement of intent.

The devil is always in the detail – bright ideas are never enough, of course – but it is clear that the thought gone into not only the structure itself but also the business model a posteriori is far more sophisticated than most environments which manifest multiple cultural goals manage to achieve.

In the Q&A after the presentation, one person raised the issue of whether such a complex and fulsome theatre-set wouldn’t prove problematic for the survival of other existing venues in the area.  In truth the question, whilst inevitable, wasn’t entirely relevant: the reality of the project, taken as a whole, leads one to conclude that to see the renewed Odeon and its attendant buildings as principally a space of theatre is to fundamentally misunderstand its objectives: from the bistro and café areas which draw uncertain crowds in for the first time to the library for the bookish & virtually adept alike to the focus on film, variable studio space and music, it’s clear that a deliberately-engineered spillover amongst a broad range of different cultural emphases will encourage much more activity than simply the theatrical; that, in fact, we will all be encouraged to move outside our comfort zones of culture.

Yes.  It’s true.  Amongst our different and differing experiences of what we term culture, there will be things we resist as well as things we embrace.  But what’s most important in life, and its wider journey, surely, is to encounter the new: to encourage the shock of that new.  And down to its very name, RE:NEW encourages a philosophy of experimentation on the part of not only its future performers but also its users and multifarious audiences.

At one point in the presentation itself, Graham Lister drew our attention to a fascinating concept: that of porosity.  It makes itself felt in the outer wall of glass which encircles the new build to the left of the original Odeon structure.  People inside will be seen almost as Lowry saw his matchstick men, women, children and animals: in this case, from outside and magical street level – and as the modern industrialised figures of light and shade walk the floors of the structure in question.

And this concept of porosity is extremely important because it serves to act as a symbol of everything RE:NEW will represent: yes, between one practice and another, membranes of specialisation always separate, even as they preserve – as well – such sets of craftsmanship and artistic endeavour.  But the separation doesn’t have to be absolute: porosity in implementation and activity will guarantee that the space that is RE:NEW will be a series of osmotic gardens, not walled gardens.

As I heard Mr Lister’s words I was reminded of my recent struggles with the process and profession of hyperlocal journalism: that new uncertainty that is super-local digital communication.  Only this morning, I suggested:

And so we come that full circle back to hyperlocal environments.  And to the dilemma I’ve already kind of sketched out: how can we be constructively local, mapping out society, news and local democracy, without becoming more spy-like and hierarchically controlling than the East German Stasi could ever have dreamed of being?

How can we inform without informing on?

Well.  The answer, I imagine, lies in art and its porosity: its openness to the rest of the world; its ability to be local and generously global – maybe universal is a better term! – at the same time.  And from artistic porosity and its example, both its empathy and its humanity, we who work in business – or propose to do so – should always remember art and culture’s wider lessons.

In particular as we attempt to implement our own contribution to the societies we live in.

Balance is never sexy – but that doesn’t mean, even so, it isn’t right.

Neither entirely local nor entirely global be.

For the wonders of life, work, pleasure and leisure lie precisely in discovering how – across preciously porous frontiers! – to persistently, and consistently, RE:NEW not only one’s self … but also, through doing so, one’s environment …



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