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COMMENT: Peterborough's artistic culture could be something to celebrate

Positive news has not always been easy to come by in recent months, but last week there were two examples of Peterborough culture at its very best.
The brilliant work from Street Arts Hire. Photo:

For at least the second time, Nathan from Street Arts Hire put the city on the map globally with his fabulous depiction of two hands making a heart, plus a superb follow-up.

Retweeted by world class musicians and taken as a symbol of hope, the figures are astounding for a piece of art that has crossed the Atlantic.

I know Nathan well and it is one of his frustrations that the city never seems to grab these opportunities when they arrive.

Then on Saturday the Black Lives Matter demonstration was held in Cathedral Square, and was untroubled by violence of any type.

Putting aside whether you think it is the right time for a protest such as this while the greatest health crisis we've faced lingers, what couldn't be denied was the breadth of people who enjoyed the event on the day.

Among the several hundred people were those who had travelled, or were from Peterborough. Those in their eighties, and those in their eighty weeks. Black, white, Asian, male, female, arguments, no hostility. 

There was also a rich diversity of artistic skill in that crowd - written, spoken, painted, sung, drawn, and much more.

But it got me thinking about where people can find this treasure trove of talent. If you know of their work, you know where to find it and you enjoy it - for example, I defy anyone not to fall in love with the Battle Lines contests.

But if you just arrived in Peterborough - and I'm talking in the future now and not in the middle of a pandemic - how would you know where to go, and what to see?

More precisely, once you've checked out the cathedral and museum, and maybe Nene Valley Railway and Longthorpe Tower, where would you go to find out what the contemporary artists are doing? Where would you go for local entertainment?

I do think, and have thought on my travels to towns and cities such as Shrewsbury and Brighton, but also much closer to home like Stamford and Cambridge, that the layout of the city centre in Peterborough is a real hindrance in some ways for artists, and indie retailers for that matter.

There are no small alleyways. No winding pathways and tiny roads leading to a magical little bookshop or art store. And of course no steps - anywhere! 

A couple of years ago I was in the south-west, to see my beloved Coventry take on Bristol Rovers. We got battered and it was raining.

So why was I upbeat on the way there, and back? Because Bristol - which has also obviously been in the news this weekend - had a spectacular procession of street art heading towards the ground. It was a photographer's dream. 

Cafes, shops, businesses, in the centre of the city and snaking out to the stadiums (cricket ground as well) in a way that is impossible to avoid for sports fans, or people just meandering. And why on Earth would they want to avoid it anyway?

Bristol 1Street arts in Bristol. Photo: John Baker

A lack of structural perfection in Peterborough doesn't mean we couldn't try to build some form of cultural quarter or arts centrepiece, assuming that the post-Covid-19 economy will still allow it. 

Most people I speak to want it. For proof, look at the positive reception for the re-appearance of the mural at Fletton Quays.

Ideally we would love accompanying sculptures, performing art, live outdoor music, DJs, pop-up cafes, workshops, art stores, and so on - but maybe for now even just a big, brilliant, Peterborough wall would do. I have seen numerous calls for it on social media this week, tagging Peterborough City Council in the messages.

Where could it be? Lincoln Road is one possibility, or Cowgate. There are plans for a potential arts space on the ground floor at Whitworth Mill. The holy grail for artwork at least is Bourges Boulevard on the 'TK Maxx' wall, but this has been spoken of for many years and remains just as drab now as it ever has.  

Maybe the Station Quarter? Perhaps, with the redevelopment of Northminster and the end of a 57-year-old crumbling market, no car park and a presumed influx of students coming to the city soon, isn't this the area to target for some great designs to showcase our artists?

With a university on the way and a rapidly growing city, there must surely be some scope for a such a canvas to further reflect the city's diversity, heritage and flair. And not just for students - visitors, and those already living here. 

We've been promised a state-of-the art array of flats and business premises - it would be lovely just to show everybody what the state of our arts really is.