Be­hold the joys of a cul­tural spring

Country Life Every Week - - Athena -

AS the clouds of elec­tion­eer­ing en­gulf the na­tion yet again, Athena fears that the Arts she cham­pi­ons will be marginalised to a de­gree un­usual even in Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal dis­course. Cul­ture, she ex­pects to be told, is a sub­ject to be ad­dressed when the out­come of real and more im­por­tant bat­tles have been de­ter­mined. Athena begs to dif­fer: the bat­tles we choose to fight are merely de­ter­mined by our cul­tural out­look.

Gloomy as she may feel on this ac­count, how­ever, it’s im­pos­si­ble for a dark mood to be sus­tained for long at this time of year. In the af­ter­math of Easter, Bri­tain’s cul­tural riches are coming alive as surely as the fields, trees and hedgerows. Coun­try houses and gar­dens are re­open­ing, gal­leries and mu­se­ums are pre­par­ing a cor­nu­copia of new ex­hi­bi­tions and the ex­tra­or­di­nary Bri­tish cy­cle of lo­cal fes­ti­vals—of music, art, lit­er­a­ture and even food—that will de­liver cul­tural de­lights to ev­ery cor­ner of these isles through the sum­mer is be­gin­ning again.

As they do so, it’s ex­hil­a­rat­ing to re­flect on how well things can be done. A day’s visit to York last week, for ex­am­ple, showed Athena that this pop­u­lar tourist city is al­ready alive with vis­i­tors and the city’s in­sti­tu­tions are man­i­festly pulling their weight to the greater glory of the whole. Even the buskers felt a cut above the av­er­age, play­ing York­shire dances and folk music.

The Mer­chant Ad­ven­turer’s Hall re­opened af­ter flood­ing in De­cem­ber 2015 and the York Art Gallery (it­self re­cently re-pre­sented) and the York­shire Mu­seum were pre­par­ing new ex­hi­bi­tions. Both are now linked with the Cas­tle Mu­seum un­der the um­brella of the York Mu­se­ums Trust and an­nual mem­ber­ship pro­vid­ing un­lim­ited free ac­cess to all three costs a mere £22. Athena saw them all.

The many mag­nif­i­cent par­ish churches within the walls (all free) are ac­ces­si­ble and the Man­sion House is poised to emerge shortly from a chrysalis of scaf­fold­ing and re­open to the pub­lic. Fair­fax House, the su­perb 18th-cen­tury town-house mu­seum, is pre­par­ing its own sum­mer ex­hi­bi­tion on artis­tic pro­duc­tion in York and is also in­volved in the fi­nal stages of se­cur­ing an im­por­tant work by Grin­ling Gib­bons for its col­lec­tion.

The day’s tour ended in the Min­ster, now poised to re­in­stall the up­per tier of re­stored 15th-cen­tury glass in its stu­pen­dous east win­dow. Even­song was a re­minder of a liv­ing cho­ral tra­di­tion we en­joy that should as­ton­ish us all.

Of course, not ev­ery­thing is per­fect. Amid so much suc­cess, Athena gaped afresh at the large and poorly main­tained car park that in­ex­pli­ca­bly oc­cu­pies the site of the cas­tle and de­tracts from all the build­ings in its en­vi­rons. The plans to cre­ate a vis­i­tor cen­tre in the cas­tle mound, cur­rently un­der ju­di­cial re­view, dis­tract from the much big­ger issue about what needs to hap­pen to the site as a whole. Nev­er­the­less, York is a re­minder that care, hard work and long-term in­vest­ment can pay as­ton­ish­ing div­i­dends.

‘Care, hard work and long-term in­vest­ment can pay div­i­dends ’

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