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Darren Henley’s first Arts Council England speech – in full

Arts Council England announced today (May 28) that it would increase the proportion of lottery funding granted to the regions.

In his first speech as chief executive, Darren Henley said the regional funding would increase from 70% of lottery funding to 75% by 2018 [1].

He also spoke about talent development, the importance of local authority funding and diversity.

The full transcript of his speech can be found below, or click here [2].

Thank you for welcoming me to Hull.

This is my first major speech as chief executive of Arts Council England.

I’m delighted and proud to take on this job.

In my first 100 days in the job, I will have travelled the length of the country, visiting towns and cities from Cumbria to Cornwall, talking to our team; to arts organisations and to our friends in local authorities.

So far, I’ve seen the challenges we all face. But I’ve also seen the quality of our artistic work in England; the richness of our museums and collections and the imaginative use of our libraries.

From a poetry reading in Hexham, to the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon.

From Birmingham Opera Company performing in a city centre warehouse, to a day behind the scenes at the London Transport Museum.

From the stunning Glenn Ligon exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary, to World Book Night with the inspirational team at Brighton’s Jubilee Library.

It’s all emphasised to me how the arts in England make up an extraordinary, interconnected cultural ecology.

It’s reinforced my absolute commitment to public investment in the arts, in museums and in libraries.

I’m excited to think what more the Arts Council can do to extend this work.

So, today, I want to tell you about new investment for artists and organisations across the nation.

Investment that will support artistic ambition, strengthen that cultural ecology and enrich our communities.

Talent development is very dear to me. I’ve authored national reports on Music Education and Cultural Education. I’m a believer in the mission of our Music Education Hubs.

We have incredible creative talent in England.

And today I’m also going to share with you my vision for how we can create more opportunities for that talent to blossom.


First, I’d like to talk about our work in Hull. It shows how the Arts Council works with communities, and what we can accomplish alongside our partners.

I know this city very well, having enjoyed an extremely happy time studying here at the University of Hull more than two decades ago.

I know that Hull has achieved much in recent years, culminating in the award of the title ‘City of Culture’ for 2017.

Hull may be at the edge of England, but it is at the centre of its history. A great port with a great industrial legacy.

This is a real, gritty city; one that prizes self-sufficiency and individual thought.

A home to whalers, fishermen, dockers, Quakers, painters, poets and musicians.

It’s seen hard times. But it has never lost its creative soul.

Now, there is a new spirit in Hull.

There’s investment, led by three-hundred-and-ten million pounds from Siemens and Associated British Ports.

And there’s the title of City of Culture for 2017.

To our friends in Hull – congratulations. It’s been quite a journey.

But these good things don’t happen by accident. They happen because of leadership – and partnership.

Hull City Council worked with partners from government, from the University and from industry to bring business to Hull.

And they worked with the Arts Council.

When Hull’s Freedom Festival needed help developing its direction, the Arts Council’s local relationship managers were at hand. It went on to become one of our regularly funded National Portfolio Organisations – and a major visitor attraction.

When the recession ended plans to redevelop the Fruit Market, the Arts Council team were here again. Working with our friends in Hull City Council, we helped to turn this into a successful cultural quarter.

This burgeoning creative centre needed to be connected to all of Hull’s communities.

That’s why Arts Council England awarded £3 million from our Creative People and Places fund to Roots and Wings.

Even in difficult times, Hull kept its faith in the arts, so we’ve kept faith in Hull.

And this enabled a credible bid for City of Culture.

If it’s sustained, this work will ensure that talent does not have to leave Hull.

It’s the Arts Council’s ambition to support centres of creative excellence across the country.

So artists of all disciplines can live and work in their communities, producing original work that will enrich our national culture.

And so that the interchange between our great capital city London and other parts of England can be more mutually beneficial – if you like, more of a two-way street.

This is something the Arts Council has been looking at for some time.

We’ve been looking at the impact of our work, and how best to develop regional centres that can contribute to the cultural ecology. And that can – between them – reach more people for whom there is currently less provision.

We’ve made progress. Look at the cultural evolution of cities like Manchester, Newcastle and Gateshead; Liverpool and Leicester; Brighton and Bristol.

And now Hull.

We need to see this work in more towns and cities across England.


But as Hull shows, this takes careful development and sustained investment.

If you add up the Arts Council’s investment in Hull between 2010 and 2015 – in these first five years of austerity – it comes to more than £15 million.

There’s more funding to come – regular funding for Hull Truck, for the Freedom Festival; funding for Hull Museums – including the Ferens Gallery. There’s funding for Hull Music Hub. And there’s been an Enterprising Libraries grant for Hull’s libraries.

And for 2017, the Arts Council will be contributing £3 million towards the City of Culture programme that will include some 25 Festivals and an estimated 1500 events running across 365 days.

This has built over time; ambition extends the ecology, which in turn supports more ambition.

So, as we look to invest in more centres outside London, we have to provide other arts organisations and communities with the opportunity to raise the bar.

Today, I’m announcing a significant shift in how we invest our Lottery revenue.

Arts Council England has already increased its investment of lottery revenue outside London up to 70%.

But I want us to do better still.

So, by the end of 2018, we are committing to increase this by at least a further 5% points.

At least 75% of Lottery revenue will be invested outside London.

There won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach.

We’ll make this investment by targeted use of our Strategic funds, so that we can be confident that we don’t harm London’s arts and culture sector.

And let me be clear – I’m committed to maintaining London’s status as a world capital of the arts. A flourishing London, with its arts and cultural organisations that serve the whole nation, is essential.

As the first part of this national investment, I can today announce the launch of Arts Council England’s brand new fund Ambition for Excellence.

This three–year £35.2 million fund will be one important vehicle for the distribution of our Lottery money.

We will spend close to £31.7 million of it outside of London.

It will develop talent and leadership in all regions, support work of increased ambition and help build ‘cultural capacity’.

We believe that there is a demand for this investment.

But in some places we will have to encourage and support quality applications.

We will have to build partnerships, especially with our friends in local government.

Just as we have done in Hull.


As I said earlier, I’m committed to talent development.

This new investment is just one of the ways in which we encourage talent nationally.

But we mustn’t overlook what is happening through our current funding streams.

In our latest round of Strategic Touring funding, for example, we awarded nearly £5 million to 13 organisations, including £2.3 million to a consortium led by the New Wolsey Theatre.

This will produce work that offers opportunities for disabled people across the country.

This is the Arts Council’s largest single award in the history of strategic touring. And it’s been made to an organisation based in Ipswich.

The diversity of our nation, the many individual and communal voices, is crucial to our future.

Just as everyone needs the arts, so the arts need everyone.

It’s at the heart of what we call the Creative Case for Diversity – the new, arts driven approach to diversity, that our chair Sir Peter Bazalgette launched last autumn.

But our work developing that national talent and building the structures for it begins earlier and runs deeper, right across England.

It begins with the work we fund for children and young people in and out of school – work that now involves the vast majority of our National Portfolio Organisations, work that is a part of their funding agreements with us.

It involves England’s network of Music Education Hubs. These are very close to my heart – they were created as a result of my review of Music Education.

It progresses through the opportunities we offer young people to experience the arts, and to make the arts a part of their lives, as artists or audiences, and as visitors to museums and libraries.

It’s implicit in the social environments we help shape.

If we get it right, just imagine the cultural and artistic possibilities we can offer to a child being born today just down the road in Hull Royal Infirmary.

So as a nation, we need to join up our thinking about talent development, and have a long-term vision.

At Arts Council England, we are uniquely positioned to help make this happen because of our national and local expertise and relationships.

So, I want us to build a brand new twenty-five year vision for developing creative talent across our country.

It’s ambitious. It will require us to build lots of bridges – and to blow up lots of barriers.

But from my work for the last two governments in both Music Education and Cultural Education, I know it’s possible.

And I’m convinced that it’s what we need.

I believe that creative talent is everywhere. But opportunity is not.

Not yet.

And that’s what this investment I’ve announced today will help change.

It’s a beginning. There’s a lot to do.

But I’m already working with our excellent Arts Council people across the country to turn this vision into a reality.

We have, for example, set out on the journey towards guaranteeing that every child in England should be able to benefit from a world class Cultural Education offer.

Because Cultural Education should be a right, not a privilege.

I’ll be talking more about my twenty-five year vision for developing the next generation of England’s creative talent soon.


Talent is a great national resource. But it needs investment.

As I said, that increased investment outside London will come from Lottery revenue, which now makes up around half our funds.

But Lottery revenue is not guaranteed – and we don’t expect it to go up.

It’s hard to make the sustained commitments that our regularly funded National Portfolio Organisations require without the certainty of government funding.

And if we’re unable to make a sustained commitment to funding our arts organisations, how can we fund the cultural development of our cities?

We see how government funding has been crucial to Hull’s cultural growth.

Though the climate has been tough, we believe that this government understands what the arts do for every citizen and every community, and for our nation.

Not least, how the arts fuel our creative industries – now growing faster than many other areas of the economy.

How they return four pounds for every one pound invested.

How they can build a narrative of national progress and give us an international presence.

That understanding is reflected, we believe, in the government’s increased investment for music education hubs.

In the tax breaks for theatres and for orchestras,

And in the commitment to the concept of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ led by fresh investment in Manchester.

We appreciate this commitment in the government’s first term.

But this progress is only sustainable with the long-term commitment of Grant in aid.

To have other success stories like Hull, we need the government to continue to make a significant commitment to arts and culture.

At the Arts Council, we will make the best possible case to ensure government funding for the arts, for museums, and for libraries – which has already been cut so much since 2010.

So I hope that, at the very least, the government agrees with the recommendation of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee earlier this year.

And I quote:

‘While it is essential to acknowledge the prevailing financial climate, we would be disappointed if the Arts Council saw any further fall in its grant in aid.’

Local authorities

We also need the support of our friends in local government.

They remain the largest investors in art and culture. They support venues, libraries and museums. The everyday resources of a community’s shared life.

If local authority funding is widely withdrawn, there will be little our limited funds can achieve. And no net gain to our increased investment of Lottery money outside London. It will be in vain.

We understand that Local Authorities have to make tough decisions.

But we know how much they value the role that culture brings to their communities.

When local authorities stand by the arts, we will stand by them. And one firm commitment attracts another. That is how confidence is built, and investment is attracted.

Where I’m standing today is a great example of that.

Because the Ferens Gallery – which has been supported by Hull City Council and by Arts Council England – has been awarded £1.5 million by the government to host the Turner Prize in 2017.

M62 corridor

That’s what’s made wonderful things possible in Hull. The combination of government money, Lottery money and local authority funding.

That’s brought in the business.

We need to stress the importance of this partnership in the environment outside London.

I believe that the example of this work here in Hull, allied to the Northern Powerhouse, gives us sight of a great national opportunity.

It gives us a chance to imagine what we could do with more funding.

Imagine a corridor of culturally driven regeneration all along the M62, linking Hull with Liverpool, and taking in Manchester and Leeds.

I call it ‘The M62 Corridor of Culture’.

It’s an opportunity, waiting to be seized. Another idea of what the future could hold.

Further north from here in Hull, we’ve seen the cultural regeneration of Newcastle and Gateshead.

This should now widen out across the northeast, taking in other great cities such as Sunderland, which I visited just a couple of days ago.

Already home to the National Glass Centre, it’s another exciting and vibrant place with big cultural and artistic ambitions, ripe for investment as part of the Northern Powerhouse.

Spending review

But closer in time, and sharper in focus, is the spending review in the autumn.

For this, we must work together to communicate clearly the effectiveness of public investment in arts and culture across the country.

And I mean the entire country. It’s as important just over the River Humber in rural Lincolnshire, as it is up the coast in a bustling city like Newcastle.

We will have to show what we’ve already accomplished.

We’ll have to impress upon people how we’re in the business of providing opportunity to individuals and communities everywhere – educationally, socially and economically.

I promise you that I will be making this case as strongly as I can.

It’s what we at the Arts Council believe. And it’s what I believe.

I come from a commercial background, with a successful record of reaching out to the public.

I want our museums, our libraries, our artists and our arts venues to be genuinely popular.

That means I want them to be a part of the life of everyone in England, no matter who they are, or where they live.

But I believe this reach is only possible with genuine artistic ambition and excellence.

I want the arts to speak to more people, but I want our voices to continue to be distinct, as they always have been.

To be voices of ambition, daring and innovation, that challenge preconceptions, that think differently and freely and create great art in ways that have never been done before – art that changes people’s lives.

That will always be the best case for public funding of the arts.

That’s my vision. I hope that you share it.

Thank you for listening.