Local government ‘more likely to fund arts that boost economy’ – report

Cast in Doncaster, one of the towns that the report said had used arts and culture to regenerate the area.
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Local authorities are more likely to fund the arts to boost economic development than for any other reason, a report published by the New Local Government Network and Arts Council England has revealed.

On with the Show: Supporting Local Arts and Culture found local economic development as being the primary reason for councils to invest in arts and culture, with health and wellbeing the second most important justification.

The report lists St Albans District Council, along with towns such as Doncaster and Wakefield, as being areas that "[use] their rich cultural heritage to drive their visitor economy".

Social issues such as promoting equal access and participation and community cohesion are less important, although not insignificant, the report said.

It also found economic development to be more important for county councils than any other authority, and found them the least likely to fund the arts for community cohesion.

Differing levels of support across local governments therefore, show “the extent to which the arts and culture are reliant on local leaders taking a particular interest in arts and culture,” said the report.

On with the Show, published at the end of last month, was funded by the arts council and written by Claire Mansfield for NLGN.

A survey was sent to more than 1,500 senior officers, arts officers and members of local governments earlier this year, and recorded answers 211 respondents from across 183 different local authorities.

More than 65% of the survey’s respondents thought arts and culture were “important” to their residents, while only 8.5% found them “essential”.

“It is a sign of budget constraints that in some authorities, unless services are essential or statutory, local authority budgets will not be funded,” the report said.

It also analysed the prevalence of alternative models of support for the arts, after 60.7% of respondents reported that they had withdrawn financial support from arts and cultural organisations, individuals and events in the last five years.

Nearly 70% stated that they had implemented or considered implementing stand-alone trusts or community interest companies to support cultural activity. Meanwhile 60.7% said that they had moved, or had considered moving from grant funding to working via a commissioning model to ensure that “arts and culture are not viewed in isolation from the rest of the priorities and ambitions for a place”.

Alan Davey, chief executive of ACE, said: “Local government remains the arts council’s most important strategic and delivery partner. Up and down the country, it is the commitment of local councils to support a healthy cultural infrastructure that is vital to our vision of great art, museums and libraries.”

“Local government has a history of entrepreneurialism and innovation that I think will be at the heart of the effort to sustain our cultural sector,” he added.

Read the full report here.