Darren Henley: Our challenge to make the arts part of everyday life

By the time I clock up my first 100 days in my new job as Chief Executive of Arts Council England I will have travelled the country meeting arts organisations, cultural institutions and local authorities.

I’ve revelled in the quality of artistic work in England; in the richness of our museums and collections and the imaginative use of our libraries. I’ve seen the transformation that the arts can bring to our schools; to our villages, towns and cities.

I’m excited to think about what the Arts Council can do to help rejuvenate more communities, support more ambition to secure the quality and originality of our national art and culture.

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Good things don’t happen by accident; they happen because people share a vision and work together to make that a reality. Our work in partnership with local authorities and other partners enables us to jointly sustain a strong arts and culture sector.

In Yorkshire, you could say that arts and culture has picked up the baton from last year’s Tour de France as momentum builds with the British Art Show taking place in Leeds this year, the Yorkshire Festival in 2016 and Hull’s City of Culture in 2017.

The 2014 Yorkshire Festival attracted 800,000 visitors and brought close to £10m to the county’s economy. Another festival is planned in 2016 with the possibility of establishing a biennial event.

At the Arts Council we want to see this work, and our support of it, repeated in more places across England. We are making a promise, that by 2018, at least 75 per cent of our National Lottery money will be invested outside of London. This is a significant acceleration in our investment outside the capital, at a time when funds are tight. It’s an important step forward in making sure that we have the best possible distribution of arts funding across the nation.

There won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. We’ll do it in ways that suit each area, using our local knowledge, and building on what is already happening with our current investment and support.

I announced this in Hull last week, which will, of course, be City of Culture in 2017 and we continue to work hard with our partners to help build the city’s capacity in anticipation of this exciting year.

We’re supporting the ambition of a national dance hub around Leeds, with Northern Ballet, Yorkshire Dance, Phoenix Dance, RJC Productions, Balbir Singh Dance Company and Dance United Yorkshire all part of our national portfolio. We also support Opera North which, is the only opera company delivering one of our In Harmony projects that transform children’s lives through tuition and regular performance opportunities.

In Sheffield, deepening partnerships between cultural organisations, the City Council and the two universities are helping to shape its cultural future. Sheffield Theatres won the Regional Theatre of the Year title two years running in 2013 and 2014.

Furthermore, York Art Gallery will reopen on Yorkshire Day, August 1, following its £8m redevelopment – helped by Arts Council Capital funding.

Our work developing talent begins with the programmes we fund for children and young people in and out of school; through the opportunities we offer to young people to make the arts a part of their lives, as artists or audiences.

I would like to think that in Yorkshire, a child will be able to grow up and enjoy the opportunities the arts offer as never before – and when that child has talent, that it will have the chance to blossom and have choices that were never available in the past. At the moment, creative talent is everywhere, but opportunities for that talent to reach its potential are not.

How we create those opportunities for the residents of Yorkshire will be a key challenge for the next few years.

We hope that the Government is able to preserve the funding for arts and culture in this country but we also need the support of our friends in local government. Local authorities are the biggest investor in art and culture in this country and if this funding is withdrawn, irreparable damage will be done.

We believe that great art brings opportunities educationally, socially and economically for all of us; that the diversity of our local communities is important to our future. We want the arts to be a part of your everyday life, no matter who you are and where you live.

I want everyone to be able to celebrate the arts and culture on their doorstep, but I believe this is only possible with genuine artistic ambition and excellence.

I want the arts to speak to more people, and I want our voices to continue to be distinct, as they always have been. To be voices of ambition, daring and innovation, that challenge preconceptions, that think differently and freely and create great art in ways that have never been done before – art that changes people’s lives.

That will always be the best case for public funding of the arts.