Some time ago (about seven months) I wrote a blog bemoaning the lack of culture in Exeter. How the cathedral city let itself down with its provincial high street, numerous shopping malls, and not much of anything else - no major art gallery, no theatre to speak of and nowhere for the literati (ha ha) to hang out and discuss the latest Booker/Turner/Arthouse anything. As a result no performers ever bothered to come here and perform.
Well, since I wrote that piece, it seems I was wrong, the state has been plugging money in. The RAMM (Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery) re-opened in December having been dusted down, refurbished and expanded impeccably since it closed in 2001 (can this be?), and is WONDERFUL. It combines a lovely mix of museum pieces collected throughout the centuries from all over the world and donated to the museum (right up to shot and stuffed large game shipped back by the Vistorians), with quite beautiful art.
It is curated really well to make it thoroughly accessible to all ages - children are brilliantly catered for - and to make best use of space provided. For example one glass cabineted-wall takes you through 40 different pieces ranging from prehistoric fossils to a real Penny Black bicycle. Plus it is really active, with numerous tours, lunchtime talks, classes etc. They need a bigger shop and a bigger eatery which will doubtless help with coffers but all in all pretty priceless. And I'm not the only one who thinks so.
Also since writing that moan, I have been to the Northcott Theatre twice - once to take my children to an imaginative rendition of 'We're going on a Bear Hunt' (brilliant) and then again to see the Jasmin Vardimon company perform Yesterday Jasmine Vardimon Yesterday trailer.. Oh my God, it was stunning, and I think the best contemporary dance show I have ever seen. I was utterly bowled over. The choreography, lighting, special effects, music, stories, and the nothing less than stunning, faultless, superhumanly athletic dancers. This is a company that has to be seen. Am pretty sure this was the tailend of a world tour, but at least they came. Performed. Blew us away. And in a small university theatre that's had all its state funding cut. Really glad I caught it.
The cathedral remains utterly breathtaking, and an imminent large John Lewis is beginning to create a stir on the high street - 'interesting' shops are popping up.
So I take it back. Some of it. There is still no decent large venue to speak of, and still no cafe/wine bar culture…. Unless you count the invasion of chain coffee shops that continues apace - a huge habitat closed to be replaced by, you guessed it, a Starbucks - and Mr Wetherspoon and its like.
But the demand and appreciation is definitely there - RAMM is huge hit and has reignited our passion in The Arts in all its forms - such that I reckon in a year or so, Exeter, instead of being overlooked will be a destination venue for performers and artists everywhere. Watch this space….