Arts: how local authorities can use the arts to improve people's lives

Central government funding for the arts is channelled through Arts Council England (ACE). ACE's 10-year strategic framework 'Achieving Great Art for Everyone' was published in 2010, a time of severe pressure for both central and local government funding for the arts. The framework makes clear ACE's commitment to purposeful, long-term collaborative relationships with local government. This is to realise shared strategic ambitions and to embed the arts in public life – helping to ensure that the benefits to our economy, national prestige, mental health, social cohesion and wellbeing are realised.

ACE's relationships with local authorities will be conducted through regional teams, which will act as a first contact point for information and advice, supported by ACE's national enquiries centre and resources available through its website. ACE has developed national relationships with the Local Government Association (LGA) and Government departments through its head office.

The five strategic goals

At the heart of 'Achieving Great Art for Everyone' are five goals, each of which offers important opportunities for shared outcomes with local government:

Goal 1

Talent and artistic excellence are thriving and celebrated. As part of the consultation on the strategic framework, local government made clear that it values ACE's role in judging artistic excellence and spotting and nurturing talent. Co-investment with local government in excellent arts organisations will help to establish England as a preeminent world centre and maximise the associated benefits for local economies

Goal 2

More people experience and are inspired by the arts. ACE wants to ensure that the arts have an even stronger focus on building audiences for excellent work and that the needs of audiences and communities are at the heart of funded activity. ACE is keen to work with partners to pool resources, innovate and promote more participation and involvement in the arts.

This will include an emphasis on increasing participation in some places with low levels of arts engagement and where there is the potential to work in partnership with local government. ACE will also extend touring as a means to reach more people, and build digital capacity in the arts sector – both of which will benefit from partnerships with local authorities.

Goal 3

The arts are sustainable, resilient and innovative. With public investment in the arts reducing, arts organisations need to be even more enterprising. ACE will work with partners, including Government, to encourage and enable a higher level of private giving to support the arts. This will include brokering more partnerships between arts organisations, the wider public sector and the commercial sector.

ACE will work with local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) to explore the contribution of the arts to enterprise and economic development. The strategic commissioning agenda also offers opportunities for arts organisations to collaborate with each other and with the wider voluntary sector to secure public sector funding.

Goal 4

The arts leadership and workforce are diverse and highly skilled. In addition to enabling the sector to reach its potential, this goal will help to ensure that artists and arts organisations can understand and reflect the values of their local communities by opening up local progression routes into the arts workforce and by developing arts leaders who are able to play an active role in civic life.

Goal 5

Every young person has the opportunity to experience the richness of the arts. ACE will advocate for an effective and targeted approach to high-quality arts provision for children and young people working with the Department of Education, funded organisations, schools, cultural partners, local authorities and higher and further education institutions.

The arts contribute to the development and wellbeing of children and young people and the proposed approach, with ‘bridge' organisations playing a key coordinating role should enable a coherent approach to engagement in and out of school.

Collaborative networks

It is clear that a network of purposeful, long-term collaborative relationships with local government is central to ACE's mission of great art for everyone. In order to develop this, ACE will:

  • provide generic advice on arts development and Grants for the Arts funding to all local authorities. Some programmes, such as Artsmark and Arts Award, will continue to be offered throughout England
  • develop sustainable partnerships with local authorities where there is evidence of, or a strong potential for, a shared agenda for the arts, including alignment with many of our goals. ACE will work with a local authority, our jointly-funded organisations and other relevant players on a handful of agreed outcomes to which we can all bring our distinctive expertise and resources
  • prioritise working in a limited number of areas with low levels of arts infrastructure and engagement. This could include, for example, extending the reach of an ACE-funded organisation to work in these areas or prioritising touring into these areas. ACE will also focus work in ‘hot spots' throughout England where creative clusters offer an opportunity to grow the arts and creative economy. The commitment of the local authority to work in partnership with ACE will be an important factor
  • build an evidence base for the arts by putting in place a robust research strategy supporting 'Achieving Great Art for Everyone' which takes account of our partnership working and the shift to localism. ACE shares a need with local government to demonstrate the impact of the work and investment in people and communities. ACE will make available cultural data through its Local Culture and Heritage profiles tool, enabling councils and the public to measure their performance against a number of data sets

An important recent development that will allow us to broaden and deepen these partnership opportunities is ACE's responsibility for the following museums and libraries functions from October 2011:

  • 'Renaissance in the Regional' programme for regional museums including completing the redesign of its content and operation
  • regional museums improvement and development agenda including the Accreditation Standard and Designation Scheme and projects relating to the Cultural Olympiad
  • libraries improvement and development agenda
  • cultural property functions such as export licensing.

ACE will be revisiting its five strategic goals in light of this widened remit, to see how it can best reflect the wider cultural sector of arts, libraries and museums. ACE has commissioned Baroness Estelle Morris to independently review its goals in this wider context. Her review will act as an ‘ice-breaker' to the work on this. and ACE will publish her thinking to encourage discussion within the sectors and local government.

These new responsibilities will enable the ACE to work with local government to create a strong cultural offer encompassing the arts, libraries and museums sectors and encouraging greater collaboration between these sectors. This will include creating an environment of innovation, self-improvement and sharing best practice.

There is potential for innovative partnership working with local authorities where there are shared ambitions. This includes the potential for a ‘single cultural conversation' which brings together a range of opportunities.

Together, local government and Arts Council England represent a partnership of equals with complementary skills and expertise. ACE brings an expert national overview and local reach; local government has the depth of understanding of the communities it serves. Together, our resources and shared ambitions can be maximised.


21 August 2012

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