ADUK have responded to the DCMS White Paper consultation on the proposals for a new, far-reaching cultural strategy, the first in 50 years, reflecting the world today. Jane Wilson. Chair of ADUK writes:
“Arts Development UK is a membership organisation, representing over 350 arts development professionals based mainly in England and Wales. Our members work across local government and arts and cultural organisations, as well as in specialist arts development companies. Our vision is to see the arts thrive in all local communities, working with and through the arts to meet local needs, challenges, and ambitions. Our role is to support our members through professional development, information and advocacy; and through our members we provide a national network of locally focused arts activity.
We very much welcome this consultation and recognize the importance of all four themes. We will argue that there is a real need for a national strategy to support the themes, one which is in no way proscriptive and which recognizes the critical importance of devolved decision-making, but which makes clear the vital role that arts and culture play in the relationships between people and place. These relationships are well established, with an increasing body of evidence, recently documented by both Arts Council England and the Warwick Commission, and we expect that there will be a large number of submissions covering specific examples of good practice.
Therefore, what we want to bring to the fore in our submission is the critical importance of local cultural infrastructure and the mechanisms that develop and maintain that infrastructure. Over the past year we have been working closely with Voluntary Arts on Our Cultural Commons, a structured discussion exploring the ways in which local communities are developing their own arts and cultural environment. We started this work to address the challenges we have seen developing from the continuing reduction of local authority engagement with arts and culture.
We know from our own annual investment survey, and knowledge of our own membership, that local authorities have been reducing both their financial investment and their staffing in relation to arts and culture. To date this has been most marked in rural districts and market towns, but is also now affecting larger urban areas and our major cities. This has had two related but separate effects.
Firstly, local authorities were one of the most significant funders of arts and culture, whether through directly managed provision, contracts, or grant aid. Collectively, they still make a major financial contribution to the sector, but coverage is patchy, with significant geographies entirely without local authority funding. Some of the reductions in funding have registered on the national consciousness, especially when they affected larger scale professional organisations, but much remains under the radar. As this change is taking place across multiple authorities, and beyond the active purview of Arts Council England, who have a focus on their national portfolio organisations, there has been very little work to understand the cumulative impact of this change on small scale and voluntary arts activity. Activity at this level is responsible for the majority of public involvement in arts and culture (see for example Our Creative Talent, research carried out by Voluntary Arts on behalf of the DCMS). It largely exists without regular public funding, but does draw on smaller scale community focused funding and support. One of the questions Our Cultural Commons wanted to address has been how local communities have responded to this change, and whether there was learning that could be shared nationally.
The other impact of local authority withdrawal from arts and culture has been the loss of the specialist knowledge and leadership provided by local authority officers. Again, the cumulative impact of this change has not been fully monitored, however we have identified two main areas of risk.
The first is the removal of internal advocacy for arts and culture with local authorities. This has its most immediate impact in that removal of funding described above, but also affects every other point at which arts and culture interacts with local government. The most pertinent example for this consultation relates to planning. Despite the inclusion of cultural well-being within the National Planning Policy Framework, without specialist internal knowledge there remain significant barriers before local plans sufficiently articulate the practical steps needed to include the cultural infrastructure that underpin the development, not only of professional organisations, but also the smaller scale and voluntary arts activity that is so essential to the wellbeing of communities. This has little immediate impact, but, as with any other sector, the longer term health and success of arts and culture absolutely depends on having the right physical infrastructure in place.
This brings us to the second main area of risk. The arts and cultural sector has responded very well to calls to demonstrate its relevance and value to the wider needs of our communities. The evidence for the important role arts and cultural engagement plays in formal and lifelong education, in health, in social and community cohesion, is now well documented. However changing public policy is not just a process of producing valid evidence, but also bringing that evidence to the attention of policy makers. The arts and cultural sector is dominated by small organisations, many of which are charities or social enterprises. They do not have the individual time or resources to take that message through to policy makers clearly and consistently. Where there are local authority officers tasked with place making and familiar with the arts and cultural sector, good progress is being made, as it is also in the relatively small number of locations with cultural organisations of sufficient scale to develop their own high level strategic partnerships (notably within our largest cities), but again, in large areas of the country, this work is not taking place, and the opportunity to place culture and creativity as a cost effective and multi-faceted route to effective communities risks being lost.
We do not argue that there should be a return to high levels of investment in directly delivered activity, local authorities are not in a position to do so, and the creative and cultural sector is arguably better served through a genuine plurality of delivery.
However, we do argue that there is a need for local authorities to remain engaged with culture, and in particular to recognise and use their skills to support and maintain local culture infrastructure, as they do for other essential infrastructure. We suggest that this is best articulated through a high level national strategy, which sets out a small number of areas for action, and against which progress in local areas can be assessed.
Working with Voluntary Arts, through a series of national and regional round-tables conducted as part of Our Cultural Commons, we have identified four key requirements for successful local cultural infrastructure:
1. Local people who inspire and lead – those ‘creative citizens’ who, beyond their own participation and beyond any remuneration, give their time to make such activity more available within their communities (of locality and interest) and to improve the quality and range of those opportunities and activities
2. Spaces and places for people to meet and do things – whether these are village halls, community centres, activity rooms in care homes, school rooms in the evenings, or function rooms in local pubs
3. Recognition of the links between creative cultural activity and wellbeing– this activity makes important contributions to improving the learning, health, wellbeing, confidence and quality of life for our communities, but the scale and importance of this activity often goes unrecognised
4. Platforms for celebration and appreciation of the arts and culture of others and a feeling within all our communities that we have a right to share our voice – cultural expression is an individual right and supports a better understanding of our own and others’ identities
We have also identified a number of actions in support of these requirements, which could provide the basis of a national approach to local cultural infrastructure. These actions provide a coherent framework at the same time as allowing the space for locally appropriate and specific actions to develop:
1 A programme of skills development for creative citizens (voluntary and paid) to build capacity in relation to asset management, regulatory compliance etc.
2. A joined-up approach to asset redevelopment, management and transfer to ensure there are spaces and places for cultural activity in every community
3. Cross-departmental policy co-ordination – ensuring the right enabling conditions across education, local government, economic development etc.
4. Nationwide initiatives for the promotion of diverse local collaborations across the full diversity of creative cultural activity within communities.
5. Increased subsidiarity in decision making and strengthening local democracy to allow greater leadership at community level (e.g. regarding ownership of or access to buildings)
6. Sustained and strategic investment in local cultural infrastructure in communities across the country and the provision of micro-financing for local collaborative initiatives
7.Consistent nationwide longitudinal measuring of levels of participation in creative cultural activity and national showcasing of exemplary local cultural activities
8. A nationwide programme to tackle inequalities within local communities through collaborative cultural initiatives
They also identify actions most effectively carried out a national level: specifically in relation to the DCMS itself we would draw attention to 3. (above), and the need for effective cross-departmental policy co-ordination. Without wanting to create a list, right now we look to the DCMS to make the case for cultural education and its place within the national curriculum. We very much welcomed the recently launched Arts Council England Cultural Education Challenge and see Cultural Education Partnerships very much as exemplifying the kind of approach we are suggesting through Our Cultural Commons: a high level national framework enabling effective locally contextualized action. However, this excellent initiative is at odds with the significant challenges to arts subjects at GCSE, and although our members are working hard to bring together local partnerships, the work to ensure that schools are fully supported to take part has to take place at a national level.
Finally, turning to the last element of the consultation, cultural diplomacy. This is not the primary territory for our members, however every internationally recognized cultural institution, performance or exhibition, has its roots in those local communities. Ensuring that we have a vibrant local cultural infrastructure means that we also have the bedrock from which the individuals and companies behind our internationally valued culture emerge.
Chair of ADUK