THE NEW director of Essex’s premier arts venue has spoken of his plans for developing the location.

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Matthew Rowe took up his role at Colchester’s Firstsite earlier this month having moved from a similar post at the Towner, an art museum in Eastbourne, East Sussex. And the 43-year old believes his experiences on the south coast will stand him in good stead with the challenges he faces in Essex.

He said; “The two venues share a lot in common. Both are capital projects which have been developed to improve access to the arts and boost public learning.

“The Towner opened in 2009, so I have three-and-half years of experience of seeing the organisation develop from the honeymoon period of its first year through to a period of building loyalty and growing audiences.”

And with the £25 million Firstsite building having opened its doors in September 2011, it is the latter challenge that Mr Rowe has to focus on in his new post.

He says his initial approach will be to listen to stakeholders and members of the public to see “what we do well and what we don’t.”

He added; “Firstsite has great strengths: it has a long programme of working with people and showing contemporary exhibitions. The architecture of the bulding is also excellent. But at the moment these are seen as separate entities and I want to develop more of a consistent brand.”

Other areas Mr Rowe has in his sights include encouraging more creative businesses to start up in Colchester through Firstsite’s management of its “creative hub” 15 Queen Street. He also wants to build up the retail and catering offerings in the centre, so it becomes a destination for shoppers and diners alike. Another priority is to attract private funding to the venue and encourage commercial businesses to sponsor events.

He said: “We live in an age where public funding is limited but we are lucky enough to have the certainty of two years of European and Arts Council funding to help us move to a point where we are earning our keep.”

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