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Our Agenda: Arts Council England

Peter Hewitt, Chief Executive of the Arts Council England, outlines their new Agenda, and how funding is to be used

Arts Council England’s ambition for 2006-8 is to put the arts at the heart of national life and people at the heart of the arts. Our aim is for everyone in the country to have the opportunity to develop a rich and varied artistic and creative life. We will ensure that more high quality work reaches a wider range of people - engaging them as both audience and participants. We will support artists and arts organisations to take creative risks and follow new opportunities in this field.

Our agenda Our agenda for 2006-8 has six priorities:

  • Taking part in the arts;
  • Children and young people;
  • The creative economy;
  • Vibrant communities;
  • Internationalism;
  • Celebrating diversity.

Taking part in the arts

We want as many people as possible, from across England’s rich cultural mix, to engage with the arts. Technology is making it possible for more people than ever before to make and distribute their work.

We will encourage more people to take part in the arts and implement our plan to meet the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS’s) Public Service Agreement target to increase attendance by three per cent and participation by two per cent by adults from Black and minority ethnic, disabled and economically disadvantaged social groups.

Above:BALTIC Centre, Image courtesy of BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead; Facing: The Royal Opera House, Image courtesy of Peter Mackertich

Children and young people

The arts have an extraordinary power to deepen, broaden and transform the lives of children and young people. We know about the relationship between arts and creativity and educational attainment, both in terms of formal ‘attainment’ (passing exams) and in terms of the development of the whole young person - as a communicator, as a problem solver, as a team worker, as an innovator, as a thinker.

We will implement our Children, Young People and the Arts Strategy in each of the nine English regions, and our Strategy for the Arts and Young People at risk of offending the Youth Justice Board and others, giving special emphasis to programmes that create pathways to education, training and employment through creativity. We will also continue the development and embedding of our Creative Partnerships programme.

The creative economy 

Our contribution to developing and sustaining the creative economy includes funding for risk investment in new work and new talent that stimulates connections between the subsidised and commercial creative industries.

We also support arts education activities to foster creative thinking at all life stages and have funded research and development linking arts with other crucial aspects of the economy such as industry and science. We will keep engaging with DCMS’s Creative Economy programme, to create a framework to support innovation, growth and productivity in the creative industries.

We will manage, on behalf of the arts sector, the £12 million Cultural Leadership Programme. Which will establish a culture of excellence, develop business skills and encourage the leadership talents of leading minority ethnic figures in the field.

Vibrant communities

The arts have a major part to play in helping to galvanise community engagement/participation in planning, and in creating a sense of identity and pride.

In partnership with other cultural agencies, we will implement our agreement with the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to shape policies, programmes and projects to ensure culture is properly embedded into the development of sustainable communities.

In partnership with the DCMS, DCLG and local authorities, we will implement a strategy for improving cultural provision in the places experiencing housing-led growth, that have historically been least well served, and wherever there is the most opportunity for innovative cultural development.


Our performers, visual artists and writers enjoy the highest international reputation. The UK is a major international tourist destination. We will host the Liverpool European Capital of Culture in 2008 and the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games in 2012.

Our creative and leisure industries compete vigorously in a global markeplace and the arts make an invaluable contribution to the UK’s international diplomacy. We will implement our international policy to expand opportunities for artists and arts organisations - to work internationally, contributing to England’s role as a cultural world leader.

Celebrating diversity

Race, ethnicity and faith will remain major preoccupations in this country and the arts are fundamental to such debates. The arts help us to develop a sense of our identity, and ourselves as individuals, as members of our communities and as a nation. In 2004/05, some 23 per cent of individuals receiving grants from the Arts Council defined themselves as black and minority ethnic artists. We have a farreaching race equality scheme and a requirement that all 1,100 regularly funded organisations have one too.

We have made major interventions in theatre - demonstrated by Eclipse Theatre, and in 2006 the Sustained Theatre consultation on Black Performing Arts. We will continue with our decibel programme, to celebrate and highlight the contribution black and minority ethnic artists make to contemporary British culture. The review of the presentation of the visual arts and our Cultural Leadership Programme both highlight diversity considerations. Our disability equality scheme will be published in 2006.

Visual arts review

In the period to 2008, we will focus on the contemporary visual arts. We will publish a ten-year strategy, informed by the review we commissioned in December 2004. It is the first review ever undertaken of the contemporary visual arts in England. The long term strategy will ensure that the sector has the capacity to capitalise on its success and the expansion in artistic practice that has taken place in recent years.

Arts organisations

Productivity by arts organisations has grown in recent years - helped by a 40 per cent increase in direct spend on arts activity since 1997. The aggregate deficit of all funded organisations was £23 million in 1997.

There is now an aggregate surplus or ‘reserve’ of £63 million. However, such a reserve is still inadequate as a proportion of overall turnover. Our stabilisation programme has invested some £155 million in arts organisations since 1996, addressing endemic financial and operational issues.

We will continue to improve organisational performance in the arts sector, particularly in our regularly funded organisations. We will support them to meet the increased business demands of the 21st Century through a new programme, drawing on internationally recognised models for self-evaluation and our experience of running organisational change programmes.

We will provide financial and business support, where needed, to our regularly funded organisations to enable them to thrive in a fast changing and technologically-driven operating environment. We will also review the portfolio of regularly funded organisations in 2007 to ensure it reflects the cultural and artistic aspirations of the country.