Last week, we welcomed the announcement of Arts Council England’s new 10-year strategy ‘Let’s Create’. As we engaged over the summer of 2019 in the public consultation process, feeding into the conversation on behalf of our members, we feel it is important to now reflect on the final strategy and what means for culture trusts in England.
Creative practitioners, museums and libraries
As a first step, Arts Council England reflects on how they interpret culture and creativity. An important step, which needs to be acknowledged given that the Arts Council refers to themselves as the national development agency for creativity and culture.
They refer to ‘creative practitioners’ rather than ‘artists’ therewith acknowledging the breadth of positions and roles within the cultural sector that support and make culture possible. With culture, the Arts Council refers to “all those areas of activity associated with the artforms and organisations in which Arts Council England invests: collections, combined arts, dance, libraries, literature, museums, music, theatre and the visual arts.” Creativity refers to the individual or collective process that makes culture possible. We welcome this change in language, as we have raised awareness in our consultation response that there is a wider workforce that supports the sector and individual artists, such as our members.
We further appreciate and welcome the increased role and acknowledgment of libraries and museums to realising this new strategy; especially since members in England manage over 160* libraries. Whereas previously museums and libraries were mostly mentioned as custodians of collections, they are now given a prominent role in achieving the strategy; recognising libraries as “the country’s most widespread and well-used cultural spaces” and museums as having “an essential role in helping us understand and shape culture.”
A wider range of cultural activities, programmes, and organisations
Arts Council England’s vision acknowledges that “many people already lead wide-ranging creative and cultural lives: they dance, draw and write; they read, visit museums, and listen to music; and they encourage their children to do the same.” They also acknowledge that these types of activities have traditionally fallen outside of the scope of Arts Council funding.
These are the type of activities that many (culture) trusts support and facilitate as they collaborate with and design activities for the benefits of their communities. Therefore, we were especially pleased to read that the outcome of Creative People means Arts Council “will support museums, libraries and arts organisations […] to support community-led activities that are open to everyone.”
We feel encouraged by the recognition of the positive health and wellbeing outcomes of cultural programming, something we actively promote, and the focus on children, young people, and the creative curriculum as we know that many of our members collaborate with their local schools, colleges and universities on heritage days, creative classes, holiday programmes, and more.
Four, not three, investment principles
In their original draft, Arts Council England set out three outcomes and three accompanying investment principles. In this final strategy, the three outcomes are met with four investment principles. The investment principle of dynamism & environmental sustainability has been split in two and all investment principles have been clarified in more detail. We welcome this change.
We have raised the challenges of reduced funding for larger, capital investment projects leading to the management of dated arts and heritage buildings, and the reduction in public funding leading to reduced cultural programming and cultural trusts becoming less innovative to avoid taking too much risks. We also advocated for the social value of cultural programming to be considered as part of Arts Council England’s investment principles.
We welcome the focus on business development support in the dynamism investment principle, the clarity from Arts Council England on being open to taking risks in their outcome for a creative and cultural country, and the recognition of the importance of relationship building with the community in their investment principle on inclusivity and relevance.
Having environmental sustainability as a separate investment principle allows Arts Council England to give more support and guidance to cultural organisations to become more environmentally sustainable. We welcome this change, yet there is still work to do – cultural organisations need support in determining in what ways they can become more environmentally sustainable. Expertise, guidance on priorities and financial support is needed to understand the changes required and the impact it has on organisation’s footprint. We are pleased to read that Arts Council England is committed to leading the way.
The strategy covers the next decade for which it makes big promises, is progressive, and ambitious. Arts Council England will work with delivery plans that set priorities for specific periods, with dedicated performance measures included.
We welcome Arts Council England’s reflection on working with a wider range of partners, including in the not-for profit and voluntary sectors. We look forward to the development of the first delivery plans as we are committed to supporting Arts Council England in realising this strategy for the benefit of our members and for accessible and inclusive public culture across the country.
*Based on the responses of our Culture Survey 2019, which had a 43% response rate of our culture-based membership. The exact numbers are likely to be higher.
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