As Warwick Arts Centre gets ready to reopen following a major transformation, What’s On talks to its director, Doreen Foster, about the venue’s bright future...  

With three cinema screens, a gallery upgrade, a new public performance space, three new hospitality venues and a redesigned building, Coventry’s Warwick Arts Centre is reborn.  

“We’re upgrading from one cinema screen to three,” says Director Doreen Foster (pictured below). “What’s great about this expansion is that we will now show new releases as well as our popular independent and foreign films. We will develop a much deeper programme too, such as talks and ‘in conversation with’ sessions with directors. The important thing about having an independent cinema is to diversify the sector; not just the audience and films showing, but those who are involved generally. We hope to develop ways for new people to find their way into the film world, whether as makers or in any other capacity.

“Next up to mention is the Mead Gallery, which has moved from its previously hidden-away spot on the first floor to right off the ground floor foyer. We’ve recreated the same footprint but have also added the Fourth Gallery - a space in front of the main gallery and foyer. We’ll use this for performances, public programming and workshops. Programming in these immediate public spaces will make the whole centre feel more alive.”

Giving the building an open and welcoming feel is just as important as the upgrades themselves.

“We’ll have three new places to eat and drink. The restaurant at the new main entrance, which now overlooks the central university plaza, is one that I hope people will see as truly special for Coventry. We’re hoping people will travel into the city just to eat with us. There are just so many changes that improve Warwick Arts Centre’s overall offering to the city. A new section of the building has also created this really lovely open foyer space. The idea was to really flood the space with light and give people more space to relax on busy evenings - and just to provide the general feeling of the venue being open and welcoming. If you can see what’s happening inside, then you’re more inclined to walk through the doors to have a look - so that’s how the building has been designed. We’re hoping that as we gradually increase our programming upon reopening, more people will come to see the arts centre as a destination for so many different needs.”

As well as drawing people in, Warwick Arts Centre will be going right into the heart of local communities.
“What you really need to do to develop audiences is go to them. So we will also have some specific programmes for getting people involved in co-commissioned and curated projects. We have this big Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games project called Playing Out, which is based in Canley, an area that sits next to the arts centre. It's designed to develop activities with communities there by collaborating with artists and then delivering it in their locality. Then some of those activities will be brought into the arts centre. They will all be new people who’ve never visited us before, even though they live next door. Getting the people of Coventry into the arts centre is really what this whole redesign has been about.

“Both ourselves and the City of Culture team have deliberately designed projects that create a sense of community and place. Absolutely, the appetite is there, but we’re the ones who have to do the work to make sure that carries on. A building is just an empty vessel. Just like how a house isn’t a home until you fill it with memories, an arts centre is just the same. My main agenda over the coming years is to locate us more strongly in Coventry. While a lot of our audiences come from places like Warwick and Kenilworth, it’s really important that the people of Coventry understand that this is their arts centre. We’re using City of Culture as the opportunity to raise our profile within the city through the projects that are funded, but we’re also just grabbing that scope for promotion and visibility around the region and beyond.”

Being fully embedded in the University of Warwick has an equal part to play in Warwick Arts Centre’s outreach.

“We must have more than 200 come into the arts centre within a year for our creative learning programme. We also work with schools to produce their own summer festivals, including choosing their artists. We also host and provide space for a lot of the music and drama societies at the University of Warwick, so that they have a regular programme of performances in our main venues. We have the Music Centre within the building too, which is used by over 2,000 students each year for free tuition. We are starting to collaborate with Coventry University on a number of City of Culture projects as well - so we’re also making those new connections.”

The venue will be looking to maintain its profile both nationally and internationally. 

“People travel to other cities for culture, and I very much see people travelling to Coventry for that; both for the City of Culture and beyond. As an arts centre, we already see visitors coming from well outside the region - even from as far away as Glasgow. As a venue, we already have a reputation for presenting international work. We’re part of that international circuit where we’re visible beyond the region, and I very much see that continuing. The hope is that people will discover there’s even more to Coventry than they thought. The reason we’re City of Culture is that it was recognised how much untapped potential there is in Coventry. There’s plenty of opportunity out there, and we just have to nurture it. We want artists and audiences to know that this city is home to the arts - and that Warwick Arts Centre is a vital piece of that jigsaw.

DOREEN'S TOP EIGHT

Here are some of Doreen's personal highlights from the venue's forthcoming autumn season of shows and festivals...

Coral Avenue 1 - 4 October 
Air Giants present their joyful, interactive, inflatable robots, inspired by undersea life.


Write To Rave 2 October
Algoraves invite people to dance to music made using algorithms, often through live coding. Since first being coined in 2011 in London, the Algorave movement has gone global. Join poet, academic and social activist Debris Stevenson for a night of immersive electronic beats. 


From The Source Festival 29 - 31 October
The festival features contemporary artists who draw their inspiration from jazz but reinterpret it for today. Contributors include: Sarathy Korwar (29 October), who draws on Indian classical as well as jazz traditions; Birmingham rapper Kofi Stone (30 October), whose debut LP, Nobody Cares Till Everybody Does, featured collaborations with Loyle Carner, Maverick Sabre and Ady Suleiman; and MOBO-nominated saxophonist Camilla George and her Quartet (31 October).


Change Festival 5 - 7 November
A weekend of uplifting theatre, cabaret, discussions, music and craft, inviting us to rise up and create a better future. Highlights include The Coca Butter Club and Meet Me A Tree, HurleyBurley's opera for children under the age of two.


Cuckoo by Jaha Koo 10 - 13 November
A journey through 20 years of Korean history. Told by ‘a bunch of talkative rice cookers’, Cuckoo combines personal experience with political events and reflections on happiness.


The Midnight Bell 10 - 13 November
Another premiere, this time from New Adventures and Matthew Bourne, who delve into the pubs and bars of 1930s London for a tale inspired by the work of novelist Patrick Hamilton (Hangover Square, Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky).


Jack Dee: Off The Telly 3 December
The latest show from the veteran comic, who offers a ray of sunshine in these difficult times!


Beckett’s Room 4 - 7 December
UK premiere by Dublin-based Dead Centre (whose Hamnet was a huge hit at Warwick Arts Centre in 2018). Beckett’s Room tells the story of the Parisian apartment where playwright Samuel Beckett lived during World War Two. Told without performers, characters are heard through headphones as objects miraculously move and the story unfolds

For information about future programming, visit: warwickartscentre.co.uk 

Feature by Lauren Cole