JW3 AND THE CUL­TURAL RE­NAIS­SANCE

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY SI­MON ROCKER

Far from de­stroy­ing other com­mu­nity hubs, nearly a year af­ter open­ing, JW3 has ush­ered in a boom of par­tic­i­pa­tion

THE BUSY Finch­ley Road which links Gold­ers Green to Swiss Cot­tage is a far cry from the sea­side. But those un­able en­joy a coastal break might want to take a trip there — for the sand has ar­rived at JW3.

The new Jewish com­mu­nity cen­tre is of­fer­ing a “pop-up beach” on its pi­azza, which, in win­ter, sported an ice rink.

A month of out­door ac­tiv­i­ties for fam­i­lies runs un­til mid-Au­gust as part of a hol­i­day sea­son pro­gramme, which also in­cludes a chil­dren’s play scheme, a sum­mer univer­sity, rang­ing from art to opera, and a He­brew ul­pan.

A decade in the plan­ning, the new com­plex fi­nally opened its doors at the end of Septem­ber. Ac­cord­ing to chair­man Michael Gold­stein, a for­mer vice-chair­man of the UJIA, the pub­lic re­sponse has been en­cour­ag­ing. “We are pleased with the level of par­tic­i­pa­tion,” he said. “It is a busy place — busier than we thought.”

Over the first six months, the cen­tre re­ceived 130,000 vis­its — more than dou­ble the ini­tial fore­cast, said JW3 chief ex­ec­u­tive Ray­mond Si­mon­son. How many of those are re­peat vis­its they do not know but it would in­clude, for ex­am­ple, people who “might come in to buy a ticket, have a cof­fee and then come for a per­for­mance a few day later”.

Orig­i­nally, they had an­tic­i­pated 1,200 to 1,300 a vis­its a week in the open­ing months. “In a full week, it rarely dips be­low 4,000,” Mr Si­mon­son said. In peak weeks, at­ten­dance has climbed over 5,000. More than 2,500 house­holds have taken out mem­ber­ship, which of­fers a dis­count on tick­ets for ac­tiv­i­ties and eat­ing at the restau­rant, Zest.

While the foot­fall has been “fan­tas­tic,” he said, “it does come with headaches. We have had to dou­ble the num­ber of staff on the box of­fice.”

The num­bers so far have proved scep­tics wrong. “So many people have said we were in the wrong lo­ca­tion, that we should have been in Bore­ham­wood,” Mr Si­mon­son said. “They said we would strug­gle, people won’t shlep here and if we don’t have a car park, they won’t come.”

The cen­tre was the brain­child of Dame Vivien Duffield and it is her fam­ily foun­da­tion which has met around 80 per cent of the es­ti­mated £50 mil­lion start-up cost, mak­ing it the sin­gle most ex­pen­sive char­i­ta­ble ven­ture un­der­taken within the Jewish com­mu­nity.

While there have been ru­mours of run­ning over budget, Mr Gold­stein is quick to dis­pel them. “I don’t know where that comes from,” he said.

From the out­set, the plan was to en­sure there would be enough in the bank to cover the first three years of run­ning costs, he ex­plained. When the three years is over, the cen­tre will have to raise around £1 mil­lion a year in ad­di­tion to ticket sales and events in­come and prepa­ra­tions are un­der way for its first fundrais­ing din­ner in Oc­to­ber.

“It is im­por­tant that people un­der­stand the cen­tre is func­tion­ing as planned,” Mr Gold­stein said.

The first cou­ple of years was al­ways go­ing to in­volve a learn­ing curve, Mr Si­mon­son said. “Some things are do­ing bet­ter than planned, like the nurs­ery. Not ev­ery­one re­alises that ev­ery penny Zest makes in profit goes back into sub­si­dis­ing ac­tiv­i­ties that need sub­si­dis­ing.”

If £1 mil­lion a year seems a tall or­der, that is also the tar­get to bal­ance the books for the Lon­don Jewish Cul­tural Cen­tre fur­ther up the road at the Hamp­stead end of Gold­ers Green. Do­na­tions cover more than half the cost of its ed­u­ca­tional and arts pro­gramme.

While some feared that the ad­vent of JW3 might hit at­ten­dance at the LJCC, it is reporting the op­po­site. Over the past five years num­bers have risen from around 1,200-1,400 a week to 1,8002,000.

The first six months of this aca­demic year, com­pared to the pre­vi­ous year, show a 16 per cent in­crease in pur­chase of tick­ets for cour­ses, events and ac­tiv­i­ties, said LJCC mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor Mandy King.

“This only in­cludes el­e­ments for which people have to pay, re­serve a place or com­mit to at­ten­dance. In ad­di­tion, we have many free ex­hi­bi­tions through­out the year, where people come and go with­out reg­is­ter­ing on our data­base. Sim­i­larly, the café is open to the whole com­mu­nity through­out the week.

“We host a bal­let school daily, Is­raeli scouts weekly, and part­ner or let the build­ing on a very reg­u­lar ba­sis to many com­mu­nal or­gan­i­sa­tions and pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als for con­fer­ences, meet­ings, and par­ties. So if those el­e­ments are taken into ac­count, we be­lieve the in­crease is much closer to 20 per cent.”

The LJCC has built up a loyal fol­low­ing among the re­tired and semi-re­tired with time on their hands. But it has also in­creased its ap­peal to a younger clien­tele, open­ing a youth cen­tre at its Ivy House base. Its af­ter-school clubs teach skills such as pho­tog­ra­phy or cook­ing, while sushi-mak­ing and car­toon­ing are among the ac­tiv­i­ties of­fered for chil­dren in Au­gust.

It has also raised its pro­file through stag­ing the an­nual Hamp­steadandHigh­gateLit­er­ary fes­ti­val and the re­cent Ge­filte­fest.

An­other adult ed­u­ca­tion cen­tre, the Ortho­dox Lon­don School of Jewish Stud­ies in Hen­don, has also found no ad­verse ef­fects. Its num­bers in­creased last year to around 600 stu­dents a week and it is main­tain­ing them this year, said chief ex­ec­u­tive Ja­son Marantz. “Some of our star teach­ers have been booked­toteachatJW3 on a part­ner­ship pro­gramme and that has ac­tu­ally led some people to LSJS who didn’t

know about us be­fore,” he said. “We do text-based Jewish ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram­ming, whereas JW3 is more cul­tur­ally­based, so there is re­ally not that much of an over­lap when it comes to fundrais­ing.”

Other cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions ap­pear con­fi­dent that they can hold their own. The Jewish Mu­seum, which re­opened four years ago in its ex­panded home in Cam­den, needs to raise around 75 per cent of its £1.5 mil­lion budget. Last year, it posted a deficit of £775,000, but en­try fees have to be kept a rea­son­able level so as not to de­ter vis­i­tors.

“It’s tough,” said chief ex­ec­u­tive Abi­gail Mor­ris, “You can see fab­u­lous mu­se­ums for free in Lon­don and ob­vi­ously we have to charge. Other Jewish mu­se­ums in Europe get pub­lic money.”

But school vis­its are up in two years from 11,000 to 14,000. And it has also be­gun to put its ex­hi­bi­tions on tour. The ex­hi­bi­tion on Jews and foot­ball , Four Four Jew, is show­ing now in Manch­ester, while its Amy Wine­house ex­hi­bi­tion , which at­tracted 18,000 at the mu­seum, is in Vi­enna, be­fore go­ing to Beit Hat­fut­sot in Is­rael and then San Fran­cisco.

“Next year, I hope to elim­i­nate the deficit,” she said. “The deficit is go­ing down and vis­i­tors are go­ing up. Things are go­ing in the right di­rec­tion.”

For David Glasser, chair­man of the Ben Uri Gallery in St John’s Wood, Bri­tish Jewry is too small to sus­tain the cur­rent num­ber of arts and ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions on its own, hence the im­por­tance of at­tract­ing the wider com­mu­nity. When the gallery staged its Up­roar ex­hi­bi­tion on 20th century Bri­tish art ear­lier this year, it reck­oned by analysing post­codes that 85 per cent of vis­i­tors were non-Jewish.

In just three and a half months, Up­roar at­tracted 7,000 vis­i­tors. “That’s more than dou­ble the half-year at­ten­dance fig­ure for the pre­vi­ous year,” he said.

Num­bers might have been helped by Ben Uri’s de­ci­sion last year to end its £5 en­trance fee. “We had to make a trade-off,” Mr Glasser said. “The un­em­ployed and people short of money can come to us be­cause it’s free.” Most of the gallery’s £500,000 budget has to be cov­ered by do­na­tions, but it is also look­ing at other ways of rais­ing in­come, through sell­ing ser­vices to other in­sti­tu­tions. “We are deep in ne­go­ti­a­tions for a ma­jor project in Rus­sia,” Mr Glasser said.

“That way we can gen­er­ate in­come by shar­ing and sell­ing our ex­per­tise. Only three mu­se­ums were in­vited to be on the del­e­ga­tion to Rus­sia — the V&A, the Bri­tish Mu­seum and the Ben Uri.”

The Ben Uri’s ef­forts to se­cure wider recog­ni­tion have also en­abled it to find a pres­ti­gious cen­tral Lon­don venue to cel­e­brate its cen­te­nary next year. “We are go­ing to be in Somerset House for five months,” he said. “It’s go­ing to be an in­cred­i­ble ex­hi­bi­tion about the Jewish com­mu­nity and its artists.”

For Mr Si­mon­son, JW3 is all about adding to the cul­tural mix rather than tak­ing away busi­ness from oth­ers.

“It is not like a foot­ball club, where if you sup­port Spurs, you don’t go to Ar­se­nal,” he said.

The beach at JW3 and ( right) a girl tests the surf ma­chine

PHOTO: HA­GAI FRID

JW3’s Ray­mond Si­mon­son

Ge­filte­fest: an event on the rise

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