The NLGN (New Local Government Network) has produced a report in response to the fact that local authority funding for arts and culture has fallen by 19% in the last three years. The report, entitled On with the show: supporting local arts and culture, warns that local authorities must now find alternative ways of sustaining local culture.
Alan Davey, chief executive of Arts Council England, writes in his foreword to the report: ‘There has been financial pressure in the last few years, and further difficult decisions lie ahead … 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.’
Key findings of the report, which explored the involvement of local authorities in supporting the arts at present, included the fact that, ‘All too often continued support for the arts and culture in an area is reliant on a particular member having an interest in the arts and culture’; and that while community cohesion was of some importance to district councils in providing support for the arts and culture, at county council level, economic development remains the key concern. Most local authorities felt that the arts and culture were ‘important to their residents but not essential’, and increasingly these authorities are looking at alternative models of support: standalone trusts or community interest companies, and moving from ‘grant-aid’ to ‘commissioner/provider’ relationships.
Among the report’s findings appears a graph detailing the main reasons, as stated by local authorities surveyed, for funding the arts and culture in their area. While the top three were ‘local economic development’, ‘health and wellbeing’, and an extant ‘arts and culture strategy’; ‘resident demand’ came in particularly low at under 4%. Alternative models of financial support which came to light fit broadly into three categories: ‘Putting existing organisations out to trust or similar arm’s length arrangements; sharing services and resources; and moving from a grant-giving to commissioning model of financial support.’
In summary, the report’s writer Dr Claire Mansfield’s recommendations are as follows: ‘Central and local government should consider how the economic potential of the arts and culture can be recognised in the growth deal process …Resources that are devolved to support economic growth should be devolved in such a way as to enable culture to contribute economically alongside other sectors. Local authorities should create a clear vision for the role the arts and culture can play in the economic and social development of their area and embed this within their corporate strategy.’
The report is available for download here