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Following Dismaland

Coasters at work – North Somerset

Tropicana is Weston-Super-Mare’s iconic 1930s lido, once the largest outdoor pool in Europe, which fell into dis-use from 2000.   In 2015, Banksy’s Dismaland kick-started a renaissance for this seafront space.

Creative Producer of Coasters Partner, Theatre Orchard, Fiona Matthews talks about how the Tropicana and Coasters can help reinvigorate this seaside town on the Bristol Channel.


Dismaland had an incredible effect on attitudes to culture in Weston-Super-Mare and in North Somerset as a whole.  Attracting massive international press coverage and around 150,000 visitors, from all corners of the globe, an estimated £20m was pumped into the local economy

In one fell swoop Banksy made a case for culture on every level – its accessibility, its relevance and its economic worth.   It has been the catalyst for a revitalised interest in culture in the region (which has lacked a dedicated budget for arts development since 2007), and a ‘cultural offer’ is now very much embedded in the council’s strategies for the town’s future development.

The challenge is to map out a future for the venue.   The aptly named ‘Tropicana Futures’ steering group meets regularly to help feed into the space’s future direction.  Theatre Orchard sit on that steering group, along with representatives from the local council, the Arts Council and creative consultant, Wayne Hemingway.

An evolving events programme, including Weston Food Festival and Hazy Days Music Festival is  beginning to put the Tropicana back on the map with a number of different audiences.  Building work has been in full flow across the complex, transforming the Tropicana from abandoned lido to seafront creative hub… the pigeons have moved out and people are moving in!

For the past 14 months Theatre Orchard has been partnering North Somerset Council on the development of a live performance offer at the Tropicana.   This has included 3 seasons of professional performance plus a Streets Alive programme.  As the region’s arts development charity (which has existed in lieu of an arts development unit within the local authority),  a big part of our role has been acting as a conduit for a range of voices and audiences in the town, ensuring there’s significant ownership of the site, and its future programme.

The potential renaissance of the Tropicana sits neatly with Coasters – the re-imagination of an iconic seaside location that embraces local audiences and expands world-class programming chimes fully with how Coasters is working.   We’re looking forward to how we can utilise the Coasters project and the experience and knowledge of our partners to bring this iconic venue back to life.   Central to these developments will be Doug Francisco, the Tropicana’s recently appointed Creative Director, who has a glittering reputation in the outdoor arts world thanks to his work with Invisible Circus.   Weston-super-Mare is booming with a new creative energy of late, and the Coasters programme will certainly help that to reach new heights (quite literally with some of the high wire circus shows on offer!).

You can catch the last Coasters show of the year at the Tropicana this month, when Spitz & Co’s ‘Glorilla’ brings a touch of the jungle to the raw interior of Tropicana on 25th November.  Find out more…