A Sense of Shift?

It seems as if a shift is starting to occur.  It’s been a slow burner, but started in autumn 2013 ago with the publication of Rebalancing our Cultural Capital. This report highlighted a disparity between the amount of public funding for the arts, delivered through Arts Council England that favoured those living in London as opposed to the rest of England.  The report stated that in London that subsidy – or investment as I prefer to call it – coming from treasury funds amounted to nearly £20 per head of population in the capital compared to only £3.55 outside of London.

At the time, Arts Council defended itself – rightly perhaps – by saying among other things that the report didn’t take into account money invested in companies whose base was in London, but whose work was mainly presented in the regions.  There is some truth in this.  At Lincoln Drill Hall we present work by ACE funded companies based in London. A key example in recent years is Ockam’s Razor, a fantastic aeriel theatre company who has brought some fantastic work to the venue over the last few years.

At the time this was all happening I wasn’t so much concerned with the London and the regions imbalance, perceived or otherwise, but with the sub-regional differences.  Ever since I moved to work in the arts in the East Midlands there has been a debate over funding favouring the three bigger cities in our region, Leicester, Nottingham and Derby.  This is still true if we look purely at the numbers.  Between 2015 and 2018 Lincolnshire will boast 4 NPO clients for the Arts Council receiving between them over that period approximately £1.88million in investment.  For those that don’t know, Lincolnshire is roughly 80 miles north to south with a population of around 730,000 people.  In that same period there are 6 organisations in our region who individually will receive more than that, one of them annually. Please don’t mistake this for bitterness.  It isn’t, it is a simple fact.

Parts of Lincolnshire receive investment through other Arts Council funds. South East Lincolnshire is benefitting hugely from Transported a Creative People and Places project that is having a positive impact upon arts engagement across Boston and South Holland.  Arts organisations (including our own) are also members of consortia delivering better quality work made possible through Strategic Touring funds. There is also a question of infrastructure in Lincolnshire – how would we sustain a big raft of additional investment were it to come our way? Would additional investment drive infrastructure development or does that need to be in place first?

Despite feeling the need to defend their decision making on where funding is allocated, some of the resulting developments from that original report means that there is now more of a focus on regional funding from Arts Council.  A couple of weeks ago I was in Hull, attending the first major speech by Darren Henley, their new Chief Executive.  In a very positive speech he talked about the arts being as important to isolated rural communities as it was to urban cities.  He announced a commitment to increasing the proportion of lottery spend outside of London from 70 to 75%

Ambition for Excellence has been announced a fund focusing on just that. Supporting real artistic ambition with a goal that around 90% of the available £35m within this strategic fund be spent in the regions.  This is great news for those of us working outside of London. My one concern is again about how oversubscribed the fund will be.  I already know of four groups in which Lincoln Drill Hall has an interest working up bids to this programme.

Following the Warwick Commission report, there was more mention made of talent development and cultural education as a right.  This is something that is crucial to us in Lincolnshire and even more so in Lincoln itself.  From ensuring those engagements at a young age through to our need to find ways to support the growing number of emerging artists graduating from our Universities – our response locally as a sector to support new talent is vital.

There is a real sense in the air of changes that could alter our artistic landscape.  The importance of regional funding need is coming to the fore.  News media is picking up upon it, especially in our region, which includes Hull – City of Culture for 2017 and therefore a flagship for cultural delivery.

My challenge, and that of colleagues across the county is to grab the opportunity that is developing before us and deliver to our communities and audiences artistic experiences like they’ve never seen before.  By putting this welcome additional money where our always ambitious mouths are we could change the landscape for Lincolnshire and deliver some truly amazing experiences for audiences.