How Crowborough Arts is raising the profile of the town


- Credit: Archant

The hub of creativity that is Crowborough Arts is all thanks to a group of art-lovers determined to raise the town’s artistic profile

Now in its fourth year, Crowborough Arts welcomes everyone with an artistic flair. This is not limited to visual arts: music and literary works are important additions to the family. The group is always looking for unusual angles of approaching arts – for example a musical performance interspersed with poetry reading – and members strive to create events and exhibitions that will appeal to their supporters. The organisation was founded by Sue Petszaft and Angela Vernon Bates and began with the Crowborough Arts Festival in 2010. There hasn’t been a festival since, instead lots of different events throughout the year have replaced it. The co-chairs decided that they wanted to continue to provide “across the board” arts activities in Crowborough which they felt hadn’t been available before. The main aim of the organisation is described by Sue as: “trying to raise the profile of Crowborough in the arts scene because it’s been a bit of a poor relation in comparison with Lewes, Tunbridge Wells and other southern towns.” Originally the main subject covered by the organisation was the visual arts, but as they became more established they realised that there was room for other branches of the arts.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

The Visual Arts branch of the group is coordinated by Sue and encourages lots of different projects. One is viewable at Crowborough Rail Station and is entitled The Station Poster Project. Crowborough Arts was approached by a local town councillor and enlisted to help revamp and brighten up the station. To achieve this, seven posters have been designed in the style of old-fashioned railway posters and are displayed on Platform 1 at the station. Each poster is the work of a different artist. These are sold, along with postcards produced from the original designs at multiple outlets around town as a way of raising funds for the non-profit organisation. Mary Harris, Life and Portrait Organiser, leads a three hour life model session twice a month and a two hour portrait session a month. The sessions are well-supported by local attendees, contributing to the group’s mixed age and ability demographic. Mary joined Crowborough Arts because she wanted to spend more time painting, particularly portrait pictures. She said: “there wasn’t anything like that in Crowborough at the time so I got involved with setting the group up with some other people.” Caroline Hobbs runs a Painting for Pleasure workshop every first Wednesday of the month at the United Church. This group focuses on painting in a relaxed environment and giving each other feedback. A major project is the Crowborough Arts Open Studio, the next is to be held in the first week of September and Sue is currently looking for artists to participate.

Live and breathe words

Literary events are run by Gaye Jee, Christine Roberts and Julia Ball. The aim is to incorporate performing arts with literature. They run several creative writing workshops, including poetry, choral speaking (a group of people narrating a poem or dramatic piece), play reading and biography writing. Members of the Book Lovers group discuss books they have read and recommend further reading. In addition events are organised, such as talks by historians Alison Weir and Annie Gray. A major upcoming event called Food for Thought, a story-telling evening of poetry and prose, will revolve around the subject of food. This will take place on 15 May at The Courtyard Café in Rotherfield.

The poetry of sound

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Co-chair Angela organises a wide range of musical events from classical, European folk and contemporary music held in the new hall at Crowborough Community Centre. Crowborough Arts has welcomed guest stars such as The Tibetan Monks from the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, ZRI Band and the Tivoli band. Around five music events are held each year. This year local group Etrusca, various other concerts and recitals are on the list. Last year they donated a prize to the TWIYCA competition (Tunbridge Wells International Young Concert Artists).

Supporting local talent

As it is a not-for-profit organisation, any profit made is reinvested into events and for the past couple of years Crowborough Arts has run a bursary scheme to support local artists who can prove they need financial assistance for a specific purpose. This scheme is funded from any profits made from events. Last year a bursary was given to Bethan Downing, who is now a student at the Arts Educational Schools in London, to help buy her kit list. Grants have also supported two visual artists who wanted to attend specialist courses and Alice Rose Barnard, who wanted to make a demo disc of her songs. She went on to attend The BRIT School at age 16, and her music is available on SoundCloud. “It’s really nice to be able to give people a leg up to do a course or make a demo disc”, says Sue.


Over the past four years Crowborough Arts has grown from a small arts festival into a proactive and encouraging organisation, placing the town on the Sussex art trail and helping all local art-lovers reach their hopes and dreams.



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