Chief among the lexicon of key words employed in cultural policy in England and to a considerable extent in Wales in recent years have been: resilience, sustainability, social impact, placemaking, wellbeing, value, regional disparities in funding and cultural diversity. Austerity has provided a context for the emphasis on some of these, while the latter two reflect continuing pressure for policy initiatives and action to address long-standing concerns.
Following the election of the Coalition Government in 2010, it soon became clear that the cultural sector was not to escape unscathed from serious reductions in public expenditure. By the end of the Government’s term in office in 2015, funding for the arts and culture distributed through the then Department of Culture, Media and Sport and Arts Council England had diminished by around 30% since a peak in 2008. Meanwhile reductions in central government grants to local government over the period resulted in local authorities making significant cuts to arts, museums and library budgets.
Resilience and sustainability have become conditions of funding by Arts Council England and the Arts Council of Wales of regularly supported organisations. In the face of the economic difficulties perhaps the resilience of many cultural organisations has been surprising and demonstrates that many have worked hard to develop other funding streams. This has taken place at a time when business support has declined and the agency Arts & Business, which used to encourage sponsorship, no longer exists. In these circumstances (some would argue because of them) it is praiseworthy how much imagination, innovation and enterprise has been shown by many cultural organisations. What has become evident is that the National Lottery, originally conceived as an addition to state funding of culture, has been increasingly used to support not only projects and initiatives that would otherwise not have happened, but also aspects of the work of organisations regularly funded by Arts Councils. This confirms a policy shift evident for some years. Furthermore, it has been suggested that the continuing uncertain financial climate is putting pressure on funding bodies to prioritise support in areas that have greater potential to generate revenue.
Concerns about the decline in public investment in culture were registered by the Warwick Commission Inquiry into the Future of Culture Value. The Commission was set up to identify a way forward to protect and enhance the strengths of cultural and creative assets and ensure their value is understood. Its final report, Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth (2015), warned that further cuts risked undermining the cultural ecosystem, i.e. the interconnectedness of the cultural and creative industries and the flow of ideas, talent and investment from public and private sources that characterises them. The Commission was especially critical of the disconnect in policymaking, strategy and financing of publicly funded arts and culture. The absence of joined-up thinking between government departments was echoed by the UK Parliamentary Committee for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport with its 2019 report on Changing lives: the social impacts of participation in culture and sport (see chapter 2.6). The Committee drew attention to the impact of culture in criminal justice, education and wellbeing and called on DCMS to lead a new inter-ministerial group to drive the policy issues across government.
Although there is some way to go before a ‘whole government’ approach is customarily built in to policy delivery, there has been evidence in recent years of greater collaborative partnerships between government departments and the Arts Councils and cultural organisations. This has been very evident in the area of culture and health/wellbeing, especially following the All-Party Parliamentary Group report on Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing and numerous other studies and the cross-governmental strategy on loneliness and the National Health Service Long-Term Plan for clinicians to prescribe arts/creative engagement more often than drugs (see chapter 2.7).
Many factors and not only resource constraints have led to a noticeable policy and research interest in how culture can be a significant driver of change at local level, how major events can bring a sense of pride, cooperation and community to cities and how culture-led regeneration can stimulate local economies in areas of decline (see chapters 2.6 and 2.7). A range of pilot programmes and placemaking initiatives have been introduced with support from foundations, the Lottery and funding agencies
It is unfortunate that the Culture White Paper and ministerial statements on the importance of culture in education is not matched by the reality on the ground. As an illustration, Creative Partnerships, the largest ever funded initiative to broker effective, sustainable partnerships between schools and arts, creative and cultural organisations and artists, was intended to develop a national strategy for creative learning and became a victim of Government cuts in 2011. More recently, despite evidence to the contrary, ministers and their departments have continued to deny that the introduction of the new English Baccalaureate, coupled with cutbacks in local authority education budgets, has resulted in less arts tuition and less take up for arts/creative studies in schools (see chapter 5.1) This makes it difficult to see how the Culture White Paper 2016 priority that culture should be an essential part of every child’s education in an out of school can be realised. However, the creation of Music Education Hubs funded by ACE and the Department of Education to provide joined-up music education has been seen as a positive development.
In relation to policy initiatives, it is difficult sometimes to escape the impression that governments especially, but also their agencies have a tendency to suffer from ‘cultural amnesia’ and to ‘reinvent the wheel’. Arguably, arts and education provide an illustration of this with the axing of the Creative Partnerships programme (referred to above), and then proposals in 2019 for its partial re-creation in a considerably more modest form (see chapter 5.2).
Policy interest in the notion of ‘cultural value’ – understood to mean the societal benefits that culture can bring including economic impacts, stronger communities, improved health/wellbeing and positive educational outcomes – has led to the establishment of a Centre for Cultural Value, the first of its kind in the UK. The Centre, based at Leeds University and operational from 2020, is being funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Arts Council England and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation with an investment in the region of GB£ 2.5 million over five years and follows the AHRC Cultural Value Project on the measurement of the impacts of engagement with culture (see chapter 2.7). This engagement between the cultural agencies and academia has been one of the interesting policy developments in recent years.
Among the policy goals identified in ACE’s first 10-year strategy, Great Arts and Culture for Everyone (see chapter 1.2.2), was a diverse leadership and workforce. Despite various initiatives by ACE, including the instigation of regular monitoring (The Creative Case for Diversity, see chapter 2.5.1), more work remains to be done. This has been recognised by ACE, as it says to build on and address diversity and inclusivity in cultural organisations’ leadership and workforce.
Another persistent and contentious issue is the apportionment of ACE investment between London and the regions. In 2013 an analysis of expenditure by ACE and DCMS, Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital, revealed the imbalance between funding allocated to the capital compared with the rest of England. ACE’s pattern of expenditure in England was examined by the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee in its report on the Work of Arts Council England in 2014. Further critical reports by the same authors followed subsequently, including Policy for the Lottery, the Arts and Community in England, which indicated how Lottery sourced money was being used as a substitute for government funding, and Hard Facts to Swallow, which claimed that ACE’s investment plans for 2015-2018 would do little to improve the geographical imbalance in funding.
Let’s Create, ACE’s Strategy 2020-2030 is built around three outcomes and four investment principles. The former focus on individual creativity, the role of culture in shaping the communities where people live and work, and ensuring England’s cultural sector is innovative, collaborative and international. The principles are: ambition and quality; inclusivity and relevance by ensuring diversity is reflected in the organisations and individuals supported and in the culture they produce; dynamism so cultural organisations thrive and are better equipped to respond to future challenges; and environmental responsibility. (https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/publication/our-strategy-2020-2030)
In 2017 the Welsh Government published a White Paper, Striking the Right Balance: Proposals for a Welsh Language Bill, and supporting and promoting the Welsh Language was one of the consultative inquiries of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee of the Welsh Assembly (see chapter 2.5.4). The Committee have also been looking into how publicly funded bodies can use culture to tackle poverty and social exclusion in Wales (see chapter 2.6) and examining the music industry in Wales (see chapter 3.5.4) and access to music education (see chapter 5.1).