Emma Dolman tries to answer the question on many people’s lips — why art in Didcot?

When South Oxfordshire District Council were putting the finishing touches on Cornerstone in 2008, one question we were always asked was ‘why are you building an arts centre in Didcot?’.

I understand it as a question — because it’s easy and it’s provocative. But let me tell you, the answer could not be easier.

The popular misconception that Didcot is a one-horse town is seriously old news. Didcot nowadays is a hive of activity, an expanding town, full of promise and full of people keen to engage with arts, entertainment and, in a word, fun.

My knowledge of town planning is minimal to say the least, but what I believe without question is that an arts venue in a town or city is the best way to animate that place, to help people feel better about where they live, bring the community together, attract visitors and businesses.

That’s enough in itself but if you want to put an economic value on it too — to bring in spend, not only in the venue itself but on associated industries doing the marketing, printing the tickets, providing the technology, selling the drinks, meals, taxis, babysitters, it soon adds up.

And Cornerstone is doing just that. When we opened in 2008 the residents of Didcot and surrounding area flocked through our doors, itching to see and to get involved. And they’ve been doing that for the last four-and-a-half years, with gusto.

People want to see top-class professional shows, take part in arts activities together, have their perceptions challenged, be inspired, or just escape for an hour or so. And they want to do it in a place with people that they know and trust.

Last Thursday evening for instance, I stood in our gallery talking to a lady whose husband had worked at Didcot Power Station, the deputy chairman of the district council, a conceptual artist and her little daughter.

They were some of the 40-plus visitors to the opening of our new exhibition specially commissioned to commemorate the power station.

Meanwhile, in the room next door were 15 young people and adults in pink, green, blue and red spotted dresses perfecting their flamenco techniques.

All the tables in our cafe bar were full of parents of classgoers, work colleagues, people on a night out. Snaking their way up our main staircase were 200 or so people going to a piano recital.

And on our top floor, adults were learning dance and elsewhere our duty manager was setting up another room for a business seminar the next day.

It was fantastic to see all sorts of people engaging with their arts centre in so many different ways. And they had come not just from Didcot, but from all around Oxford, from across the district and beyond.

Cornerstone is an arts centre in Didcot, but its programme, accessibility and welcome means that it is also an arts centre capable of attracting audiences from Oxfordshire and beyond.

And that feels good . . .

nEmma Dolman is arts director at the Cornerstone arts centre in Didcot