Maidstone is the heart of Kent and its county town; the river Medway runs keenly through it, giving a murky air to the beautiful buildings that encroach on this old town. Maidstone is the scene of great battles during the English Civil War, most notably on Penenden Heath where the royal forces were penned back by the Parliamentarians.
Maidstone has a wonderful museum, which houses the mummified body of a young girl; and is the location for great shopping in the form of Fremlin Walk. The town has one of the oldest pubs in Kent and is surrounded by villages and hamlets that are the best that this country can offer.
So I have to ask a question, with so much beauty and history surrounding the town of Maidstone, where are all the artists?
In my travels around the town I have encountered one poetry group and an art installation that is not for profit. The Hazlitt Theatre, which is home to a delightful studio theatre, has the poetry group and the art installation is in a little out-house, wonderful though it is, I would expect more from the county town of Kent.
The Hazlitt is a big disappointment to me. Coming from an area where arts groups thrived, I find it very difficult to understand a theatre that does not promote new play writing. Perhaps there is no call for it, perhaps there is not a single person in Maidstone interested in producing or writing their own work. The trouble is, everyone I talk to about seems to agree, there is a lack of arts in the town centre.
Compare that to Rochester and Chatham, where cinema groups thrive, plays are produced, theatre groups do re-enactments and Dickens is key to a lot of that; where artists display their work on regular occasions and there is always an exhibition somewhere along the line, you have to ask what is Maidstone doing wrong.
You cannot argue that there is no infrastructure for arts installations and groups, as Maidstone has plenty of opportunity to house such things; there is the aforementioned museum and theatre, as well as a host of empty spaces all crying out for some use. The theatre is well supported so there is an audience for this sort of thing, and when I produced a pop-up cinema event in the museum we had a large group attending that.
Is there a desire for arts in Maidstone? Perhaps it is the local authority putting a barrier up where there should be none. Money talks as they say and if something is produced, like an arts festival for
instance, and it does not make any money for the local authority then it will be the first thing to be culled. In times of austerity it is the arts that suffer, being as it is felt that it is not an essential service to be offered to the public. But this is wrong; art can help communities in all sorts of ways, especially in mental health issues, where it can be a release for some people.
Art is another form of communication, and I am surprised that Maidstone, being the central town for Kent, does not offer more artists more opportunities. Where are the festivals, the installations, the poetry readings, the new plays, the pop-up events; the local filmmakers?
Councils have a duty to serve their community and by introducing new art to their people they are serving that community; by supporting up and coming artists with their work and giving the opportunity to showcase their work is also serving the community. Maidstone it seems is falling behind when it comes to artists living in Kent.