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24 September 2014

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Falmouth Arts Centre looks to the future
Art gallery
One of the ground floor galleries which are booked out until the end of October

A 200 seat theatre and cinema space, three art galleries and large educational spaces.

Administrator Michael Carver takes us through the beautiful and historic arts centre in the heart of Falmouth.

Falmouth Arts Centre

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Fact file
+ The Falmouth Arts Centre building was established in 1835

+ The Cornwall Polytechnic Society was the very first use of the word Polytechnic in this country

+ Theatrical productions began at the end of the 19th Century

+ Film shows were started in 1910

+ The theatre has a capacity for 200.

BBC Cornwall:
ow did the Arts Centre come about?

Michael Carver:
In the early 19th Century a Quaker family called Fox were in shipping and had a foundry in Perranarworthal. Two daughters and the son of the family got interested in the working conditions.

Many of the workers were illiterate but had all sorts of ideas. The siblings decided to found a society to promote the arts and sciences. In 1833 they formed the Cornwall Polytechnic Society - the very first use of the word Polytechnic in this country.

Falmouth Arts Centre
The RCPS was established in Falmouth in 1835

Two years later they applied for Royal patronage - they became the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society in 1835.

They decided to acquire their own building for an annual exhibition of the arts and sciences. They pulled down a dwelling in the heart of Falmouth and built an exhibition hall. Their first exhibition was in 1835 - there was no ceiling on the hall!

It wasn’t long before every town in Cornwall had a chapter of the RCPS. These exhibitions related particularly to Cornwall but had much broader scope.

Every year the annual report included learned papers on arts, sciences, manufacturing , living conditions of miners, fisherman - a lot of them are kept here in the library where records go back to 1833.

How did the theatre and the cinema start?

People started to think they would like to put on plays in the 19th Century. The Quakers always turned them down but at end of 19th Century the rules of the society were changed to allow the presentation of dramatic performances.

The hall was extended to include a stage. At the start of the 20th Century a licence was applied for to show films and it was granted in 1910. In 1969 a floor was put halfway up the hall to create a gallery space above and we now have a 200 seat cinema/theatre space.

How do you choose what is performed?

Quote marks
Most people feel we’re a beautiful little arts centre which provides a community resource.

Quote marks
Michael Carver, Falmouth Arts Centre administrator

The three people in the office (general manager Shaun Kavanagh, administrator Michael Carver and programme manager Kate Rogers) choose performances which we want to show. On the cinema side we can show La Strada, Some Like it Hot for instance - if you have to show all the blockbusters you will end up showing some duds.

We sit around and look at material from agents and groups and decide on a programme which is eclectic, professional, attractive and affordable. Anyone who comes can be certain that they’re not going to get something second-rate.

We rent out space on the understanding that the people will put on first class professional work. We don’t have tribute bands - there is a place for that but we don’t believe it’s at the Falmouth Arts Centre.

Local dance classes have their annual events here, adult education, talks, films, drama and three art galleries are in constant use - two street level ones are occupied from beginning of January to the end of October without a break.

Mid-stream work from FCA
An example of mid-stream work from Falmouth College of Arts

What changes have there been over the past decade?

Ten years ago the centre was barely ticking along - we needed a full-time administrator. Previously it had been done two mornings a week.

We have seen far greater involvement in the community, higher visibility in Falmouth and a wider variety of programming. Ten years ago we got around 18,000 through door per annum, this year we should reach 55,000.

What's the vision for the future?

On the assumption that a town the size of Falmouth will always need an arts centre, we’ll always be here to provide it. Over the years the function has changed slowly from being a learned society, which would not be viable now, to an all-purpose arts centre.

Most people feel we’re a beautiful little arts centre which provides a community resource. We don’t have the capacity of the Hall for Cornwall, but then we have the advantage of being small and much more workable.

In the next ten years we’ll have to keep up-to-date with techniques of film making and film showing. New equipment will be required - it will be digital of some sort. We are becoming more involved with other venues - the 400 seat Princess Pavillion for instance, where we have booked six events including Geno Washington.

Falmouth and Penryn are expanding - the new Maritime Museum, the new university, Falmouth College of Arts is expanding and will have more input into the centre.

Thanks to Administrator Michael Carver.

Contact details:

Falmouth Arts Centre
Church Street
TR11 3EG

Tel: 01326 212300

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