Darren Henley: Keep the faith. Yorkshire is a cultural powerhouse

The eyes of the world will be on Hull, and a new purpose-built open air theatre, when it is the UK City of Culture next year.

The eyes of the world will be on Hull, and a new purpose-built open air theatre, when it is the UK City of Culture next year.

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AT the Arts Council, we know that sustained investment in arts and culture can help change a place and people’s lives for the better and it was good to hear the Culture Secretary John Whittingdale affirm that this sector of society has a significant part to play in the development of a Northern Powerhouse. 

Yorkshire has a world-famous arts and cultural community. Over the past few years, the Arts Council has been working with that community to strengthen their cultural infrastructure and realise their brilliant ambitions. We believe that the arts illuminate our lives in many ways – and we know they can make a vital contribution to our local and national economies.

We’ve seen in Hull how sustained cultural development can herald a change in a city’s fortunes. We’ve invested more than £3m to support the city’s exciting plans for its year as UK City of Culture in 2017.

There’s been a shift in local confidence and international perception that’s been crucial in attracting business and jobs. Hull is now on the Rough Guide’s global list of must-visit cities.

Across Yorkshire and the North, there are towns and cities where arts and culture could play a similar transformative role.

This will need three things.

First, it needs targeted investment. At the Arts Council, we’ll do all we can. We’ve already provided capital funding for the redevelopment of York Art Gallery and the creation of a brand new venue, Cast in Doncaster.

We support many Yorkshire-based arts and cultural organisations that have a national and international impact – including Northern Ballet, Opera North, Sheffield Theatres (named UK regional theatre of the year two years running), and Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

And we’ve made some significant new investments too – such as Yorkshire Festival, where £1m of our funding helped to generate close to £10m for the county’s economy – and West Yorkshire Playhouse where we’ve pledged £6.6m for its refurbishment.

We are going to do more. By 2018 at least 75 per cent of our National Lottery revenue will be spent outside London – up from the current figure of 70 per cent and historic level of 60 per cent.

And we’ve got a raft of programmes to spread opportunity and share the benefits of the arts with new audiences and communities – our Creative People and Places has three projects in Yorkshire.

But it’s important that investment is sustained, strategic and collaborative.

This brings me to the second point – we need more and better partnerships at a local level. It’s not only about the Arts Council working with local authorities.

It’s also about local authorities working together and brokering cultural partnerships that involve higher education, businesses and development agencies.

If you have the vision, we can help you realise it. With devolution high on the agenda, now is the time to think collectively about what art and culture can do for you.

When our chair, Sir Peter Bazalgette, visited Bradford a couple of years ago, he challenged the city to show us its cultural ambition.

Well, Bradford took on the challenge and we’ve now invested almost half a million pounds in Bradford Literature Festival to help put it on a national platform. We will do more if we continue to receive strong applications.

Thirdly, it’s about providing an environment for talent to emerge – and working to retain that talent. This might mean for example, ensuring affordable living and working space for artists and burgeoning creative industries.

We’d all like to see a situation in which our local communities can retain the talent they nurture. Arts organisations can also offer clearer career pathways.

We all believe that if we work together, the future for the North remains bright. We back the Culture Secretary’s encouragement to London institutions to support organisations outside the capital or to set up satellite posts, and our doors are open to welcome such partnerships.

I know people were taken aback at the decision to move items from the Royal Photographic Society collection at Bradford’s National Media Museum to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

While national museums and the decisions they make are not the Arts Council’s remit, we do know that the movement of these kinds of assets between museums is common. It shouldn’t in any way be interpreted as any loss of faith in Yorkshire.

We’re keeping the faith. We’ve just awarded almost £800,000 to Skipton Town Hall, Northern Broadsides in Halifax and Kala Sangam in Bradford so that they can improve their buildings and equipment and in turn bring even more great experiences to audiences.

Darren Henley is chief executive of Arts Council England.

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