Arts Council England has unveiled the strategy that will guide its work over the next decade, aiming to address what it says are “momentous” sector-wide challenges that include inequality of opportunity and a widespread lack of diversity.
There is particular emphasis on communities and young people in the document, published today (January 27), which sets in stone the Arts Council’s priorities for its work and the organisations it will fund between now and 2030.
Entitled Let’s Create, its contents are broadly similar to the draft document published by the Arts Council last year. It is based around a vision that by 2030, England will be a country “transformed by its culture” and “in which the creativity of each of us is valued and given the chance to flourish”.
The strategy is the second of its kind to be published by the funding body, and will replace its 2010 document, Achieving Great Art for Everyone, which had a heavy focus on excellence.
While the new strategy continues to emphasise “high-quality work” throughout, it also makes repeated references to the importance of creative education and of working in partnership with local communities.
It is based around a series of three outcomes, and four principles needed to achieve them. The outcomes focus on how people can develop creativity throughout their lives – including as children, within communities, and as professionals – while the principles claim the arts should be driven by ideas including ambition and quality, relevance, dynamism and environmental sustainability.
In a foreword to the strategy document, ACE chair Nicholas Serota writes that these goals must be achieved amid a landscape that includes “inequality of wealth and of opportunity, social isolation and mental ill-health”.
“It has become clearer than ever to me that while the challenges of the next 10 years are momentous, the possibilities are just as great,” he adds.
In the document, the Arts Council admits that some places and people in England “have been disadvantaged by historic patterns of public funding”, and promises to address these imbalances over the next decade, particularly concerning people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, D/deaf and disabled people and those from minority ethnic backgrounds.
The inclusivity and relevance principle includes the intention to “judge organisations for the way in which they reflect and build a relationship with their communities, as well as for the quality and ambition of their work”.
National portfolio organisations already commit to improving diversity as part of their funding agreements with ACE, but under the new strategy these companies will be asked to agree to targets relating to how their staff, audiences, work and governance reflect the communities in which they work. These will include gender, race and disability as well as socio-economic background.
ACE chief executive Darren Henley said that a “place-based approach” to funding, with a focus on communities and parts of the country that have been neglected, represented “a central strand of the strategy which is different to last time”.
ACE acknowledges that the changes it is proposing mean that the arts organisations it invests in by 2030 may “differ in many cases” from those it supports today.
“We don’t pretend it’s going to be easy to deliver this,” he told The Stage.
“I really believe that talent is everywhere in this country, but I am conscious that, historically, opportunity for that talent to come to the fore hasn’t always been there. We’ve got to make those interventions to make that happen,” Henley said.
In practical terms, ACE promises regular reviews of its applications processes and its monitoring requirements to ensure they are accessible and inclusive, as well as to become “a more flexible investor”, adding alternative schemes to its more traditional grants.
It will also invest in new technologies and proposes a set of seven questions that must be answered before making investments.
The strategy – described as a “guiding light rather than an instruction manual” – will be followed later this spring by the first of several delivery documents setting out a more precise plan for the next three years, ahead of the next NPO round, which opens later this year with funded organisations for 2022-26 announced in summer 2021.