Behold the joys of a cultural spring
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 ’