Supporting the whole cultural ecology

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First published by Arts Council England, 28 July 2020

As we await details of the Government’s £1.57 billion recovery package for the UK’s cultural sector, our CEO Darren Henley sets out how we'll use our remaining resources to support individual artists and creative practitioners. 

In the coming days, we expect DCMS to publish the details of the Government’s £1.57 billion recovery package for the UK’s cultural sector. Already, however, the overall focus of the fund is clear: it has been designed to do the urgent and critical work of supporting the survival of cultural and heritage organisations that are at risk of no longer trading viably by the end of this financial year and that are considered to be of international or national cultural significance, or that contribute to the levelling-up agenda. This investment by the Government is desperately needed and deeply welcomed; there is no doubt that it will have a significant positive impact on a sector that has been severely challenged by Covid-19, and that it can provide future employment opportunities for creative practitioners. I am proud that Arts Council England will be able to use our knowledge and experience to play a central role in its delivery. But I believe over the months to come we have an additional role to play, in using our existing funds to complement this extra Government investment – and as we await the final details of their plan, I wanted to share some developing thoughts on how we aim to support and enhance their intervention.  
When we committed £160 million to our Emergency Response Package for the cultural sector in March, we sought to use the funds we had at our disposal to support every element of the cultural ecology in this country, in recognition of the rich interdependencies and relationships that exist between places, organisations, different cultural forms, and, of course, the thousands of freelance artists and cultural practitioners whose commitment and creativity are the lifeblood of our sector.  Our intention now, therefore, is to use our remaining resources to build on the Government’s rescue package, so that support can reach all aspects of this ecology. Providing support for individuals to think, plan and practice in the here-and-now is a priority, especially reaching those from underrepresented groups, many of whom face barriers that have only grown in height over the course of the Covid-19 crisis. 

Last week, we reopened our Arts Council National Lottery Project Grants. Our remaining budget for this funding stream for 2020-2021 stood at £57 million – but given National Lottery Project Grants’ flexibility as a resource both for individuals and for organisations, and its versatility in supporting development, creation and delivery, we have added a further £18 million to this pot. While the funds that have been open to cultural organisations since the crisis hit have thus far been about survival, National Lottery Project Grants should allow them to return to making work and reaching the public. In recognition of their role in supporting the community of cultural freelancers, we will prioritise applications that maximise employment opportunities – particularly for those from under-represented groups. Furthermore, in the autumn the fund will be open to applications from National Portfolio Organisations looking for investment to make new work, which should create further employment opportunities throughout the sector. But freelance creative practitioners will be also be able to apply directly to National Lottery Project Grants on their own behalf – and in fact, in recognition of the challenges currently facing individuals we’ve redesigned the programme to focus on them, removing the requirement of 10% match-funding, which was in place before the current crisis. Our aim is that a minimum of 50% of our under-£15,000 awards will be allocated to individual creative practitioners, in order to give them time to think and research new ways of working. 
I’m also excited to be able to announce that we will be reopening our programme for individuals, Developing Your Creative Practice, in the autumn – and that we will significantly increase the budget allocation this year from £3.6 million to around £18 million. The final details are still being worked on, but we intend to open the programme to a wider group of creative practitioners than in previous rounds, and to prioritise those who are looking to develop new skills and new ways of working for the post-Covid world.   

Attracting applications from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic artists and organisations, from disabled artists, and from organisations focused on the work of disabled creative practitioners, will be a central priority for both of these funds. We will learn from our achievements in this area during the allocation of our emergency funds, and establish new ways of supporting applicants who are less familiar with our processes to help the applications to flow in.   

We realise that some members of the cultural freelance community – stage managers and technicians, for example, as well as certain performers – will not be eligible to apply to either of these funds. In recognition of this, we have allocated a budget of £2 million from which we will make further contributions to some of the funds that have been set up to offer support and the opportunity for skills development to these vital members of our ecology.  It’s my hope that, by investing in these funds, Arts Council England is sending a clear signal that this is an area in which contributions from other creative industries organisations and donors would be welcomed.

From our conversations with you over the last four months, we know how desperately you want to get back to making work, and we believe that the measures we’ve outlined here will help many of you to achieve this. But it is important to acknowledge, as we head into the second half of this extraordinarily testing year, that our resources are limited, and our funds will not be able to support everyone who wants to create. The recovery package from the Government represents an invaluable lifeline for our sector, and it will rescue a significant number of institutions that would otherwise not survive the crisis - but given the scale of collapse of earned income, it’s important for us all to recognise at the outset that this rescue will not be achieved without significant cost cutting. The cultural ecology that emerges from this crisis will, sadly but unavoidably, be smaller than the one we started with. But if we make the right decisions now, we can ensure it will still be here to serve the public in every corner of the country, and to nurture the vital, imaginative, disruptive and diverse talent we will need in future, to inspire and delight us, and to help us to meet the challenges that lie ahead. 
Let me finish by taking a moment to recall what the purpose of all this effort is. For me, it is about getting back on track with our strategy, Let’s Create. That strategy is at its heart about empowering all of us to live the creative and cultural lives we choose – whether we live in towns and villages that deserve to be levelled up, cities that are already engines of innovation, or anywhere in between.  As we continue to find a path through, I promise we will do all we can to listen, to learn, to adapt our thinking and to respond in ways consistent with the bold vision contained within Let’s Create. I’m proud of our strategy because we created it in conjunction with artists, arts organisations, museums and libraries – and most importantly with the taxpayers and National Lottery players who fund everything we do, and for whom we do everything. It’s in precisely that spirit that we’ll approach the months and years ahead. 

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image credit: The Big Wall Lisbon - Vertical Dance Intensive © Maitane Ussia
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