Councillor Janet Emsley. Photo Credit: Rochdale Borough Council, Alan Hamer Photography

Hearts for the Arts 2021 Shortlist – Councillor Janet Emsley

Rochdale Borough's Councillor Janet Emsley has been shortlisted for Best Arts Champion - Councillor in the 2021 Hearts for the Arts awards.

As a committed and energetic supporter of the Arts, Cllr Janet Emsley is a constant presence on the local arts scene. Her support is often active: at any given event you might find Janet warmly welcoming audiences, stewarding, handing out leaflets or rallying the ‘troops’ at rainy outdoor festivals.

Rochdale Borough has some of the most economically deprived communities, is within the 1% lowest culturally engaged regions in the UK, and external investment into the arts has been stubbornly low. However, behind the scenes Cllr Emsley works tirelessly to change things, championing the arts with elected members and building relationships with strategic partners. Rochdale Borough Council didn’t have a member for culture until Cllr Emsley insisted that arts and culture were both vital and valuable.

This year, Cllr Emsley helped Touchstones Art Gallery to broker a partnership with Rochdale Veterans and students at Oulder High Community School to work on an inter-generational creative engagement project, focusing on parallels between the life during World War II and the COVID-19 pandemic. This will be linked to one of the exhibitions they hope to be able to reopen in spring next year.

Cllr Emsley is the force behind ‘Rochdale Borough Culture Network’ bringing together local artists and arts organisations. In her role as Chair, she focuses partners on developing ways of working together to reach more residents across the Borough. And, in response to Covid-19, Cllr Emsley backed an ambitions scheme which delivered 7,000 ‘Get Creative’ packs full of activities and materials to children during lockdown

In 2016 Cllr Emsley was asked to lead Rochdale’s bid to display Dippy (the Natural History Museums’ iconic 150-year-old Diplodocus cast) in the council’s customer service centre. Rochdale was successfully selected and, in early 2020, Dippy on Tour opened as the only North West stop on his nationwide tour to major cities such as Cardiff, Belfast, Newcastle and Glasgow. 120,000 people visited Rochdale – including 8,334 school children and teachers – in the first five weeks; enjoying the town centre shops, cafes, restaurants and museums. Cllr Emsley was vital to planning meetings, budget discussions, sponsorship negotiations, media coverage and even volunteering to meet and greet visitors.

Whilst Cllr Emsley is synonymous with arts and culture in Rochdale, her energies also reach further afield. She is a prolific advocate and supporter of the arts across Greater Manchester, serving as vice Chair of the GMCA Culture and Social Impact Committee which oversees £3.5m of culture investment and a Trustee of both the Halle Orchestra and Contact Theatre, and has now also been invited to join the North West Area Council.

What the judges said:

“Wow – what an amazing force for culture Cllr Emsley is. She’s inspirational and helps to support so many people on so many levels. Lucky Rochdale!”

“Councillor Janet Emsley is a hands-on advocate of the arts in her local area. From face-to-face intervention to online promotion, the arts are always central to her objectives. Here’s hoping 2021 brings even further success for her endeavours, further promoting her excellent work within Rochdale Borough Council’s local communities.”