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Art for all - at last!

Margaret Bolton, director of policy, celebrates a new attitude to funding arts that places communities in the lead.

January 2019

From festivals in Morecambe, to zombie films and community recipe books and ‘a play in a day’ in Birmingham, to Fun Palaces in multiple areas, Big Local areas are demonstrating the creativity of their residents. But for most, these entertaining events bringing people together are not what people typically think of when they hear the term ‘the arts'. Instead, it's often opera, ballet, art galleries and classical music that spring to mind.

In this respect the Arts Council’s (ACE’s) new draft framework strategy for 2020-2030 is a breath of fresh air. It bins the term ‘arts’ and instead refers to ‘creativity and culture’. And, it suggests that in the future ACE wants to engage with how the general public define culture, reflecting their experience and interests.

A pivot to partnership

This feels like a major step forward. I remember in the mid 90s being gently told that ACE was not interested in using the arts for 'social engineering' - a loaded term if ever there was one! It’s very heartening all these years later to see ACE pivot towards a new emphasis on the social and economic benefit of culture and creativity: "We intend that this strategy…. will help us go further in realising this nation’s creativity, and unlocking the cultural, social and economic benefits that come with it." Bravo!

The top line of the previous ACE Strategy 2010-2020 was ‘Great Art for All’. Many came to feel that the emphasis was too much on the great art and not enough on the ‘all’. The new draft strategy framework goes some way to address this. It proposes seven outcomes including the desire to create “a nation that supports and celebrates culture and creativity of every kind” and an aspiration to ensure that “people from every background benefit from public investment in culture”. It also refers to the need for action to develop new ways and new partnerships to support community-led cultural projects.

Communities in the lead

The emphasis on community leadership is obviously music to the ears of Local Trust (pun intended). In the context of culture and creativity it's something we started to think about a little while ago.

In March 2018 we invited Big Local areas to an event to discuss community commissioning of artists and arts organisations. Some arts and cultural organisations are highly skilled at developing work with communities based on co-design or co-production principles. However, our perception was that very few had the ethos that the community might lead the project. The event celebrated the benefits of community-led creative projects but acknowledged that we know little about different models and approaches to their delivery. It also floated some of the funding difficulties and the support and guidance needed both by communities and arts practitioners.

This discussion, and others which followed it, informed our Creative Civic Change programme. This £4m funding and support programme is a partnership between Local Trust, the Big Lottery Fund, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. Thus far, 16 areas have been selected to participate and are now developing their project plans. We hope through the programme to deepen our collective “knowledge and expertise about community-led cultural activity and new forms of creativity”. This is a quotation from the ACE draft framework strategy, and we are delighted to invite ACE to collaborate with us to build this knowledge together - with communities in the lead.

Local Trust has prepared a response to the ACE draft framework strategy document which outlines how it would like to work with ACE to help achieve some of the proposed strategy outcomes. You can read our submission here.

The findings from this first round of consultation by ACE will be considered, alongside the research evidence it has collected so far, in order to produce a worked up draft strategy and delivery plan, which it will publish for a second consultation round in spring 2019.

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