Event Lunchtime Lecture - Mike McCart, Director of Development and Policy at the Southbank Centre
Event hosts a series of Lunchtime Lectures featuring internal and external speakers covering topics from new technologies to flood prevention. This week the studio welcomed Mike McCart, Director of Development and Policy at the Southbank Centre.
Mike talked about Southbank’s current redevelopment projects, his perspective on how commerce and culture can support one another to create a sense of place, and Southbank’s Renaissance that pushed forward, after several false starts, in 1999. He and Event’s CEO James Alexander worked closely together on the Southbank Centre’s masterplanning team in the late 1990s.
The Southbank Centre is now a hub of culture and activity in London, its animated outdoor spaces taking over Covent Garden as London’s must-see cultural destination. It is difficult to believe that its initial attempts at funding a 21st century regeneration had a rocky start. And yet, masterplan after masterplan was rejected. It seemed no one quite believed that the Southbank could become the cultural heart of London. Today, the Southbank’s annual footfall exceeds 25 million, matching the highest predicted visitor numbers which funders at the time found so difficult to accept.
Central to the Southbank’s success is its business model that lets culture and commerce exist in a symbiotic relationship. It stands as an example of how a cultural venue can raise its own income as government funding for arts and culture continues to face heavy cuts. Excellent public programming is funded by established restaurants and cafes renting space along the Southbank. At the same time young entrepreneurs are offered rent-free space for pop-ups. They often work in collaboration with artists to create innovative venues for the crowds that flock to the Southbank.
Constantly looking to engage with new audiences the Southbank focuses on diversifying its audience base through targeted programming. Instrumental in this mission are the site’s festivals. Indeed, the Southbank Centre has embraced a ‘festival site’ identity, reconnecting with its heritage as the home of the 1951 Festival of Britain, but reinterpreted for today’s London. Brazil Brazil was timed to coincide with Rio di Janeiro being named Olympic host and brought in Lambeth Council’s extensive Portuguese community, the largest outside Portugal. Unlimited, a reoccurring festival celebrates the works of disabled artists and transformed the Southbank’s environment. As the world’s largest festival site at 21 acres and now hosting 12 annual festivals, the opportunities are incredible.
The new redevelopment plans are looking at how they can reinvigorate the space. As Mike pointed out: “You could spend £100 million on Royal Festival Hall and no one would notice – you have to change the context”. Opening up the Southbank’s rich archive to the public with interventions in the Royal Festival Hall foyer is the next change on the agenda. With its sector leading approach to audience engagement and original programming, it is sure to be worth joining in.
Photo Credit: Belinda Lawle