Arts and cultural commissioning at Kent County Council

Kent County Council has been developing opportunities for arts and culture to contribute to local health priorities through the commissioning process. This case study forms part of the Different delivery models – commissioning culture and arts section of our online Culture Hub.

The work began in 2012 with a series of events for arts practitioners and health-based commissioners to discuss joint working. This led to a £250,000 investment from the council’s public health and arts services, along with investment partners Artswork and Royal Opera House Bridge, for a pilot commission. The pilot aimed to improve young people’s wellbeing using creative interventions and prepare arts and cultural organisations to become commission-ready. This resulted in the 'Arts & cultural commissioning toolkit’, a resource to guide providers through the commissioning process.

Kent was then selected as a national partner in the Arts Council England funded Cultural Commissioning Programme (CCP). Working with New Economics Foundation and a steering group of commissioning and policy managers, Kent developed a theory of change to map the short, medium and long-term aims, focusing on influencing policy and colleagues, changing internal processes and capacity building the sector. 

Impact of the project

Kent used the commissioning of a new community mental health and wellbeing service to test how arts and culture could be embedded into service provision. So far, six arts and cultural organisations have been awarded innovation grants through this contract. During this time, the new Public Services (Social Value) Act provided an opportunity to work with the council’s waste management department to consider how arts and culture could support its providers to deliver on their social value requirements. A scored social value question was included within a new tender. The process had its challenges: the concept of additional social value was new to all involved, and the connection between arts and waste in this context had to be clarified. 

The new waste provider is working with Future Foundry, an arts social enterprise, to develop a social value programme based around the principles of the circular economy and entrepreneurship. ‘Circular Kent’ aims to establish the role of culture and the creative industries in supporting the transition to a circular economy as a progressive way of improving social value (social, environmental and economic resilience).

Kent’s work on community mental health and waste management features in a New Economics Foundation and CCP report, ‘The art of commissioning’. 

Looking to the future

Commissioning for outcomes is a new way of working and an ongoing process of learning and adaptation, but Kent County Council now has a mandate from councillors and directors to continue working in this way. Councillor Mike Hill, Cabinet Member for Community Services, said: “We need to find new ways to fund and sustain the arts. Embedding arts and culture into commissioned services is an important step in doing this – they have much to offer in supporting people to have a good quality of life.”

Laura Bailey, Arts and Regeneration Officer, said: “Our approach has always been a bottom-up one – start at service level, deliver a really good project then use it to influence policy. We began our journey with public health and a few arts organisations; now we work across the council with all major service areas. Our next collaboration is the commissioning of an older person’s and physical disability wellbeing offer. We are developing an evidence base to show that arts and culture can directly support a range of positive outcomes. There is now an acknowledgement here of the value of arts and culture to health and wellbeing, skills development, regeneration and placemaking.”  

Key learning points

  • Embedding arts and culture into commissioned services is a long journey, and is much more than helping arts organisations to understand the tender process: it’s about continually advocating for the arts amongst different sectors and stakeholders; building strong partnerships outside of the arts; and encouraging better evaluation and evidencing.
  • In difficult financial times, there can be a fear of competition in the voluntary and community sector. It is important to be clear that this is about bringing different skill sets together for better outcomes. A partnership will only work if there is a shared vision and an openness about roles and responsibilities. 

For further information contact Laura Bailey, Arts and Regeneration Officer, Kent County Council:


This case study has been developed in conjunction with Arts Council England