New York culture strategy up to 2025 hopes to unlock benefits of the arts for all in the city

A new culture strategy in York is aiming to unlock the  benefits of the arts for people from all backgrounds who do not “want to just eat, work, sleep and be stuck in their houses”.
York Mystery Plays. Picture: Gerard Binks.York Mystery Plays. Picture: Gerard Binks.
York Mystery Plays. Picture: Gerard Binks.

Ambitions contained in the York’s Creative Future, 2020 – 2025 strategy were outlined to an online audience of more than 100 delegates yesterday, alongside some of England’s top culture experts.

After asking residents what they want from culture in the city, the plan lays out six priorities for the next five years in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, including the development and retention of creative talent, inclusively and the role of young people.

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The strategy has been put together by York’s Cultural Leaders Group – a cohort of about 30 of the area’s organisations, venues and heritage bosses – City of York Council, and Make It York, the city’s tourism agency, which is leading on the project’s implementation.

Helen Apsey, head of culture and wellbeing at Make It York, said: “We really don’t want it to be a document that sits on a desk.”

She said that the strategists needs to be out in the community having conversations.

“It’s not about a top-down approach to culture,” she said, adding that it was partly about “recognising what people are already doing”.

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Championing the health and wellbeing benefits of the arts, she said: “People don’t just want to eat, work, sleep and be stuck in their houses – they want to take part in culture.”

The strategy’s priorities include: culture being “inclusive, relevant and accessible to everybody” in York; involving local investment and city planning developments; the right to culture for children and young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds and with special educational needs and/or disabilities.

It also champions: developing and retaining talent through universities and colleges providing clear routes to skilled employment; using innovative work in culture for health and wellbeing; and raising the profile of York’s arts, culture and heritage and its status as the UK’s first UNESCO Creative City of Media Arts.

Yesterday’s virtual launch featured a series of keynote speakers from across the cultural sector, including Dr Darren Henley, chief executive of Arts Council England in conversation with York Museums Trust chief executive Reyahn King, and Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, chief executive of UK Music.

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Meanwhile, seven “cultural wellbeing grants” were issued to community projects.

In York there at least 62 professional arts and heritage organisations operating in the city and more than 140 creative enterprises – including the renowned York Mystery Plays which are due to return in 2022.

However, out of the half a million adults living in the York postcode area, only 45 per cent is engaged in doing something creative and around 40 per cent are not regularly attending events, performances, festivals, a museum or gallery, said Make It York.

In 2019, live music generated £5.34m 154,000 people going to gigs and festivals – the bulk from grassroots venues that supported £2.3m from 116,000 gig-goers last year.