England and Wales have a large network of community centres. These serve as public locations that provide members of the community with the space to gather for group activities, social support and information, some of which may be cultural and artistic. There is a revival of interest in arts centres traditionally dedicated to showcasing professional arts or high-quality amateur arts (the arts centre movement had been very active from the 1970s-1990s). Many of these centres increasingly also dedicate space and time for community arts activities, mostly under the stewardship of the arts centre itself. Furthermore, charities and religious organisations such as churches are places that may provide space for community arts activities. Funding comes from different sources. Very often, arts centres rely on a mix of government funding (e.g. in the form of grants from the Arts Council or the local authority), private funding and self-generated revenue.
Libraries alsoplay an important role in the provision of cultural services. Under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, all of the 151 English local authorities are required to provide a comprehensive and efficient library system (though financial cuts are said to be undermining this). A recent report by the Carnegie UK Trust showed that in addition to offering literature services, many UK libraries also function as cultural hubs. This can take on a diversity of forms and includes the provision of rehearsal and performance spaces for performing arts as well as “makerspaces” and exhibition spaces for crafts and fine arts. Furthermore, libraries run workshops that give people the chance to explore their creative potential. However, due to local funding cuts, many libraries are now run by volunteers rather than by qualified librarians or have been closed altogether. This means that the provision of library services across the country has become patchy and varies in quality. Furthermore, there are music hubs, which provide children with the opportunity to learn a musical instrument of sing in a choir (see chapter 5.2).
Community artistic creation has a long tradition in England and Wales and there is a wealth of arts organisations such as amateur choirs, orchestras or theatre companies that provide opportunities for artistic expression by non-professional artists. Although exact numbers are hard to come by, the Third Sector Research Centre puts the number as high as 49,000 amateur arts groups in England alone. What is noteworthy about these groups is their diversity in terms of quality and accessibility. Although officially deemed amateur arts, some non-professional groups require extensive and costly training from participants (e.g. many amateur orchestras require players to be of Grade 8 music or above standard of playing), which may make the groups somewhat exclusive. On the other hand, there is a proliferation of creative arts interventions and grassroots initiatives that aim to involve the highest number of people in arts activities and which get their funding from different sources. There are also certain charities that use the arts to provide services to specific groups such as refugees (e.g. Art Refuge), or the homeless (e.g. Streetwise Opera). The renewed interest in the interconnection between arts and wellbeing, as well as the introduction of Social Prescribing (see chapter 2.7) could increase participation in amateur arts and highlight the importance of creativity.
Subcultures such as “steampunk” or “goth” were of some relevance for different parts of the UK arts scene, including music, fashion and literature, in the latter part of the 20th century. While many of these subcultures are still in existence, it is questionable whether they are still as influential nowadays. Boundaries between different groups seem to be much less clearly defined than they were in the past with many people practising a pick-and-mix approach and choosing an eclectic mix of elements from different subcultures.