ACE Strategy Consultation Interim Report

Arts Council England (ACE) has now published a report on a strategic consultation commissioned from Britain Thinks, an independent research and strategy organisation: Arts Council England: The Conversation. The report has involved a wide-reaching engagement programme consisting of workshops, ethnographic visits and surveys, underpinned by an open online Conversation platform (the latter of which CVAN contributed to). ACE invests more than £445 million of public funding every year and feels it’s important that this investment is distributed according to a shared sense of direction, purpose and vision with artists, arts and cultural organisations, central and local government, education, business and charitable sectors and, most importantly, with the public, who provide the money that ACE distributes.

In general, the findings are extremely positive and sit well with CVAN's National Network Strategy to build the resilience and visibility of the contemporary visual arts. There is much insight in the ACE report, however, to inform our own communications strategy which is currently in development:

  • We need to raise the profile of the contemporary visual arts with the public who tend to associate arts with performing arts such as classical music, ballet and opera. The public is nevertheless very keen to participate in contemporary arts but 53% of English adults don't feel informed about opportunities to engage locally. 
  • Whilst there is still widespread support for arts and culture in UK society, in the context of austerity, we need to work harder to communicate the case for public visual arts funding. 
  • More needs to be done to address a public perception that STEM subjects are more important and more likely to lead to successful careers than arts subjects. We need to do more to reach young people and communicate the benefits of studying and participating in the visual arts. 

Better communication is not all that we need to do, however. Much also needs to be done to re-balance participation in the arts in terms of workforce, audiences, and funding:

  • Two-thirds of the arts sector as a whole think diversity is key for the future sustainability of the arts but that not enough is being done to diversify the creative workforce and to access the broadest range of individuals regardless of their gender, ethnicity, where they live and, in particular, their social background. 
  • The public want to see a local arts and culture offer that is tailored to local areas, along with public funding which is channeled towards a more diverse range of organisations, and artists that reflect the communities in which they live. 
  • There is also a perception that it is necessary to better balance investment across England. This chimes well with the outputs of CVAN's own recent consultation with our regions and, as a regionally-based network, CVAN is in an exceptionally strong position to help  address these concerns effectively. 
  • Digital technology is viewed as one of the most important developments for the arts. Initiatives and approaches such as live streaming of events, use of virtual reality, or being able to browse collections or exhibitions online are seen as having the potential to open up the sector to more people, transcending geographic and cultural boundaries, and facilitating a greater mix of art forms and opportunities – especially among younger audiences. However, better digital experiences are wanted alongside real ‘lived’ physical experiences. In addition, it is considered  important that physical spaces – museums, galleries, libraries – should not be at risk of becoming obsolete. The sector (particularly the non-funded sector) believes it to be important to retain equity between arts that use digital practices, and non-digital, ‘traditional’ art forms. Again, this fits well with the overall views of CVAN's networks and with our own strategic objectives. 
  • Much as we need to find an effective balance between art forms, we also need to be conscious of a balance between participation and excellence. The survey shows that the public are almost twice as likely to say that the Arts Council should focus investment to get more people involved in arts and culture as they are to say it should invest in producing the very best arts and culture and are less likely to support funding for taking risks. Respondents from the sector, however, place a high value on risk-taking and excellence. We must find ways to balance the needs of the public for greater involvement with maintaining the UK's global reputation for innovation and excellence in the arts and supporting excellence in emerging practice and artists' development. 

Beyond funding for the arts, the sector would like to see ACE take on additional roles including bringing the funded and non-funded sector together: facilitating partnership working and providing support at a regional level to link grassroots and larger sector organisations. They also see a role for the Arts Council in providing leadership and guidance around responsible governance and CPD. In light of the current political and economic climate, many would also like to see the Arts Council play an increased role in advocating for the sector. 

Again, this fits well with CVAN's current strategic objectives and we will be working to support these aims in our own advocacy work at national level and in the support and development role of CVAN's regional networks. Overall, we are delighted by the positive response from the public as well as the sector and look forward to a further consultation ACE is planning from October 2018 and to more insights and research to be published later this summer.