It’s a mystery to me why seaside resorts are not becoming vibrant, thriving, bustling artistic communities filled with creative industries. Actually, it’s not wholly a mystery. There are reasons, but my assertion is that the reasons could and should be overcome.
In the past, seaside villages were all about supporting agriculture or they were all about fishing. Both of those industries are in decline, at least on a village-sized scale, as industrial food production has displaced the local farmer with a few acres of coastal pasture and the two man fishing vessel with vast production machines. When those industries left the economies of seaside towns, everybody embraced tourism. An endless string of holiday cottages, fast food outlets and other attractions sprang up to replace the now vanished industries and these towns did relatively well from people spending a few weeks a year by the coast, savouring the sunshine and sea air.
Of course, having a local economy dependent on tourism means that for large periods of time, throughout the year, the place gets pretty deserted and this factor, alone, has an impact on the viability and vibrancy of the town. Unfortunately, with the prolonged recession and the drive for government austerity, even tourism has begun to fail. Seaside towns are now almost empty, even during the traditional high season. Visit one of these towns today, and you can see lots of “for sale” signs and very little else going on.
The time is right for artists, musicians, writers, painters, digital creatives, software developers, animators and other creative people to flock to the coast and become inspired by the setting. What used to hamper creating anything in seaside towns were the lack of connectivity to the outside world and the difficulty of obtaining supplies in far flung coastal resorts. With broadband provision finally making it as far as these villages and with online stores (such as Amazon) capable of delivering supplies seemingly anywhere, on demand, for no additional premium, a lot of the disincentives for creating on the coast have been ameliorated. As far as marketing your works to the world, that’s largely online too, with your web presence hosted in a cloud somewhere, not even locally.
So why aren’t all the empty holiday properties being snapped up and bought by artists? Why is there an off season, when artists would be perfectly content to spend a winter in a seaside cottage, plying their art? It could be the prices. As empty as these seaside villages are, nobody, it seems, is prepared to take the punishment of selling at the market value and instead, prefer to hang on to their empty decaying properties, rather than drop the price to a market clearing level. Individuals are unable to withstand the financial loss. Also, while people think that their properties are for tourist purposes, they would rather see a holiday cottage sitting idle, earning nothing, during the off season, than drop the price of the high season rent. For some reason, they don’t think they can charge different rates at different times of the year. Heaven forbid that they should average the price of the rent over the whole year and let an artist stay there full time, when they can earn so much more during the high season, if only for a few weeks.
Another thing that is displacing artists from seaside resorts is the fact that so many people go there to retire, cashing out from their massive Home Counties properties to fund a cottage by the sea and a quiet life. Many of these towns are like retirement villages. They don’t want the bustle of a thriving artistic community moving in and spoiling their tranquillity and will protest vociferously against any such incursion. They’d prefer the local economy to decay and rot, just as they are doing, rather than see artists move in with their families, their industry, their spending power and their vibrancy and life.
I don’t really understand why a bunch of retirees would prefer to see the local shops and post office close, for want of any real economic purpose, rather than tolerate an influx of noisy, busy artists and their families. They tolerate the yahoos that arrive during the peak of the tourist season. What would be the harm of resurrecting these communities and injecting a bit of life into them? Surely even the older folk would enjoy a bit of companionship and compassion from younger community members.
Something is definitely wrong with the current picture.
Perhaps it is a lack of organisation that prevents landlords with empty holiday homes connecting with artists that need premises in inspiring surroundings. Maybe all that is needed is the right clearing house web site. I would have thought that even token rent is better than no rent and that empty buildings attract destruction and vandalism. Surely it is far better to have a painter in residence, or an author or perhaps even turn the holiday home into a temporary recording studio (after all, you only need a laptop, a few old things and some sound proofing to get going, these days), than it is to leave it cold, empty and at the mercy of the elements.
That’s not to say that there is an endless stream of professional artists waiting to move into these creative havens located in seaside communities. They have mortgages, too and while holiday homes cost way more than regular homes, where is the incentive to live in deeper debt? If they want to move to the coast for just a few weeks a year, in order to create, they still have to pay the mortgage on their permanent home, while also paying rent on the seaside cottage. It’s a double hit.
Many artists subsidise their artistic practice by teaching, so they need a ready and regular supply of paying students, wherever they are. In most seaside villages today, the supply of students is probably pretty limited, though with regeneration, this would prove to be a temporary problem, I’m sure. Teaching ties an artist to a place.
All things considered, however, it still troubles me that there are so many empty places in beautiful locations that would definitely inspire creative people to do their best work. It further troubles me that artists are not moving in, preferring to remain in suburbia. I suspect the real problem is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to live at all, as a full time artist, so many either supplement their incomes doing regular day jobs, or else they have a spouse that is tied to their place of work. Telecommuting is not yet a commonplace, even in the more mundane of day jobs. Property prices and rents are definitely defying gravity and are being held at far above the market clearing price. People would rather not sell at all, than realise the loss. It’s a head in the sand approach, because the loss will be realised one time or another, perhaps even more so, as the resort decays further. Yet, everybody lives in the hope of another housing bubble fuelled recovery.
If the local authorities that ran coastal towns got serious about broadband provision and support for artists, by taxing empty properties, things might change. It would become economically viable for artists to live and work in beautiful surroundings, they could get their supplies and market their works, leveraging the Internet to do so and these coastal communities would blossom as artists started their young families, put them into the re-opened village school and demanded all the services and amenities that we do in regular suburbs. Nobody would need to commute and there would be no traffic chaos. But we’d have to lose our fondness for instant earnings due to inflated house prices and our desire to work in offices in city centres for the sake of appearances.
Could it happen? Of course it could. Will it happen? I don’t know.