We’d been open barely a week when Val paid her first visit. She hadn’t been invited, as others had. She’d sought us out and wanted to find out for herself.
This is almost certainly a slight embellishment. Val Wilson, Exeter City Council’s Arts and Events Officer, knew Fin from his days trying to set up the Tabernacle Arts Cafe. So this new project wasn’t a complete unknown. And yet, her attitude in coming to us rather than the other way round, made a strong impression.
Val is incredibly loyal and tenacious in fighting for support for projects that she thinks worthy. Whilst local authorities across the country have cut their arts budget, Val has managed to keep hold of hers. Indeed, she’s done more, creating and leading on Unexpected – a city centre festival focussing on outdoor work, Val’s specialism. She puts her whole life into her work, something undervalued of those in the public sector, though not rare. I’ve admired her personal bravery, her stoicism and her kindness, her willingness to stick her neck on the line and risk being unpopular.
Without Val’s support – and others like her – Exeter City Council wouldn’t have found the funding to support us back in 2013 when others didn’t much like the look of us. It isn’t much, but the council’s £10,000 a year helps unlocks over one thousand per cent more from foundations, sponsors and the Arts Council.
Exeter City Council were there first. And whilst the politicians may take the credit – they like credit – it was Val, their quiet arts officer, who was the first through our doors.