When the Arts Council give you funding, everyone wants to meet for a coffee. When the Arts Council don’t give you funding, Rachel offers to meet for a coffee.
Rachel Sutton is the Deputy Leader of Exeter City Council and therefore one the Glorious Leaders of the Socialist Republic of Exeter. Before that, she worked as an arts practitioner in beautiful Manchester and less beautiful Leicester. She came to Exeter to work for Arts Council England before they foolishly let her go and then foolishly let Exeter go and buggered off to Bristol, like so many artists before them.
Arts Council’s loss was Exeter’s gain. Rachel was elected Councillor for Exwick in 2010 and then Deputy Leader of the city. As with Stuart yesterday, Rachel has been a true champion of the Bike Shed. Her catchphrase is “oh, you really must speak to so-and-so”, followed a few weeks later by “have you got in touch with so-and-so yet?”. Beyond her sterling work chairing the steering group for Ignite, she’s brought the Bike Shed to the attention of the great and the good across the city. She wrote the Leader’s speech for the launch of Ignite in 2014 (not that he cared to read it out). And she briefed Ben Bradshaw on us when he spoke in the House of Commons debate on the arts.
We live in a brief moment in time where local authority support for culture is dwindling. Across the country, councils are faced with challenges to balance their budgets, challenges which often mean that non-statutory spending is cut. So far, Exeter City Council has maintained its culture budget. Much of this is to do with people like Rachel, people who don’t rant and rave but quietly persuade behind the scenes. Rachel puts up with a lot, not least from me. Everyone has an issue, everyone a complaint. How she takes it, I’m not quite sure. That she does, and that she keeps on fighting our fights, with more skill and more success than we ever could, is astounding. The Bike Shed, and Exeter as a whole, has a lot to thank her for.