Culture Matters: making the case for the arts on a local level

“Cultural organisations need to do a better job at coming together locally to share resources, devise partnerships that will unlock financial savings and generate income benefits and join forces in making their case”
- The Warwick Commission, Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth 2015

 The Arts enrich so many aspects of our lives from education to the economy to general wellbeing. However, their contribution is often overlooked by many from policy makers to businesses, educators, philanthropists to the wider public.

 Lately there have been a number of efforts to open up this discussion on the significance and future of arts and culture in our society. In the last month we have seen the release of the Arts Council’s Advocacy Toolkit, The Warwick Commission’s report on the Future of Cultural Value and the BBC’s ‘Get Creative’ campaign. All intended to stimulate wider discussion on the impact and relevance of the arts on our nation.

 ACE’s Toolkit is an information pack designed to help organisations perfect their ‘story’ on the value and impact of public investment in the arts at both a national and local level. While the Warwick Report looks at the place of the arts within the whole of the creative industries and how we can make a broader case for support within this, instead of focusing solely on the economic return on investment. Last but not least, ‘Get Creative’ is a year long high profile campaign asking questions such as ‘What have the arts done for you?’ and ‘Do we owe artists a living?’ which the BBC hopes will stimulate debate and discussion amongst the public over the issues of access and funding of the arts. Despite the differing approaches and target audiences the underlying message seems to lean towards the importance of access to a rich cultural offer for everyone in the UK.

 There are still significant imbalances between cultural offers across the UK and even within regions. Over the past 6 months CG has attempted to kick start this discussion in Gloucester (generally considered to be an area of low cultural activity) with a series of ‘Culture Matters’ events; a chance for all invested in the future of arts and culture in Gloucester to come together to share ideas and help the area reach its cultural potential. The first sessions have identified the need for more joined up working and for a range of voices to be involved in forming a cultural vision for the city. 
You can find out more about the open space meeting that kicked it all off here

So how can the arts sector reduce the imbalance in cultural provision across the regions?

 What can be done to reform areas with inadequate arts access and low cultural participation? AKA the ‘cultural cold spots’

 How can those involved in the cultural sector work together to make the whole case for arts and culture?

1.    Be more outward looking

It’s important to know the arguments for your own organisation inside out. What makes you unique? Why is your work needed? What would happen if you didn’t exist? Many organisations will have their own case for support outlining these arguments, which all staff will likely be well versed on. But it is vital we keep in mind the ‘bigger cultural picture,’ what is happening on a local, regional and national level and how can we place our work and aims within this wider context

 2.    Respond to the particular needs of the community

Previous cases for support have stressed the positive economic impact a rich cultural life can bring to an area through tourism, employment and regeneration. But the arts play a much wider role in local society: bridging communities, revitalizing local pride and ultimately ‘place shaping.’ It is vital for cultural organisations to recognize and respond to this challenge. After all, who is better placed to get to grips with the economic, social and environmental challenges facing their local society and how the arts can make a significant contribution towards solving these?

3.    Collaboration and action at a local level

Through regular communication and more joined up working organisations can identify their common values and drivers and what gaps need to be addressed. This can be used to form the basis for a cultural plan that works for everyone, incorporates a strong local identity and has greater weight in gaining the support and approval of key stakeholders outside of the arts. The Warwick Report recommends the opening up of this process to incorporate local communities and to encourage them to see themselves as ‘co-commissioners’ of their cultural experiences, in order to create a cultural strategy that is as representative as possible and to truly leave a lasting impression on the local area.

 Hannah Keville, Fundraising Fellow