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United Kingdom/ 8.4 Amateur arts, cultural associations and civil initiatives  

8.4.1 Amateur arts and folk culture

Almost six million people in England volunteer for arts activities according to a survey published in 2008 by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Our Creative Talent: the voluntary and amateur arts in England, represented the first step towards developing a comprehensive understanding of the size, make up and impact of the voluntary arts sector in England. The research showed that there are nearly 50 000 voluntary and amateur arts groups across the country with a total of 5.9 million members. An additional 3.5 million people volunteer as extras or helpers - a total of 9.4 million people taking part. Amateur groups presented 710 000 performances / exhibitions in 2006/07 attracting 159 million in attendances. In the five years to 2006/07, some 34% of amateur groups had members who subsequently became professionals. Arts Council England, supported by the DCMS and the Voluntary Arts Network(VAN), has been developing a plan of action to follow up some of the issues raised in the Report.

The development of the voluntary and community sector, and encouraging people to become actively involved in their communities, particularly in deprived areas, was a key focus for the previous government. Increasingly, local communities are themselves identifying the arts and heritage as an essential vehicle for building community networks and fostering improved levels of confidence and skills in individuals. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has worked closely with the Home Office to highlight the role that cultural activity can play in strengthening and developing communities, and to embed this in its programmes on Community Cohesion, Civil Renewal and Active Communities.

The Voluntary Arts Network (VAN) continues to work with DCMS to promote the importance of the voluntary cultural sector in delivering cultural and social policy objectives. VAN is the UK development agency for the voluntary arts and works with policymakers, funders and politicians to improve the environment for those participating in the arts. It provides information, training and networking opportunities to those who participate in the voluntary arts sector. This includes more than 300 national and regional umbrella bodies and, through them, their member groups of local voluntary arts practitioners. For more information visit:

A Manifesto for Participation in the Arts and Crafts was launched in Autumn 2009 by VAN, with the support of the National Association of Local Government Arts Offices (NALGAO), the National Disabilities Arts Forum (NDAF) and the National Campaign for the Arts (NCA). This set out a 10 point plan to:

  • identify how and where participation takes place;
  • find ways to increasing and widening participation;
  • invest in and develop the infrastructure supporting participation;
  • develop a joined-up approach to participation;
  • bring about a step change in support for participation;
  • share best practice;
  • enhance the status of amateur / voluntary participation;
  • raise the status of leaders and facilitators;
  • involve the voluntary / amateur arts movement in the development of any policies; and
  • develop the role of participants in setting the agenda.

Further information is available online at:

In 2009, following research and consultation with the folk music industry, Arts Council England identified four key priority areas for funding: artistic development; sectoral development; communications and advocacy; education and learning. The Council allocated GBP 400 000 to the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) to support the national development of the folk industry in 2009/10 and 2010/11. The EFDSS was established in 1898. Through advocacy and programmes of performance, participation and education, it seeks to support folk artists and practitioners and engage people in folk arts activities. The EFDSS is custodian of the internationally renowned Vaughan William Memorial Library and folk archive.

Small local groups that are not formally constituted are able to apply to the Arts Council's Awards for All lottery scheme for grants of up to GBP 10 000.

Chapter published: 15-04-2011

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