Musings for February 2019

    What does the next decade hold for Arts and Culture?

Arts  Council England (ACE) is currently working out its strategy for the next ten years.

Regardless of assurances that austerity has ended, it is expected that Government funding will, at best, remain the same, or more likely be reduced.   This is at a point when, with local authority funding have taken the bulk of the swingeing axe blows to budgets, their ability to continue to properly support their museums and galleries is impaired.  Those axe blows have been particularly heavy for northern municipalities, with some museums and galleries forced to close. And as I write, there is controversy about another proposed change to the local government funding formula, that would protect the shires and deplete further some of the poorest towns and cities, and especially in the North.

No small challenge then for the Arts Council !

The first part of its consultation was in the Spring of 2018, and we at Sheffield Visual Arts Group duly made our submission. (Please click the link below).

ACE,  in responding to that first part of its consultation, then set out its stall in their “Shaping the Arts“ document, as the start of the public consultation, in the autumn of 2018.

They have said:  “We ask members of the public what art, creativity and culture mean to them to help us consider what it will take for our country to become a truly creative nation - one that celebrates the culture of all its communities, and that encourages creativity in all of us. The film also featured as part of the autumn consultation.”


And they asked people to respond to their document:

We at Sheffield Visual Arts Group hosted a discussion in October, with artists, educationalists, galleryists, art lovers, politicians and arts infrastructure personnel,  to reflect on the ACE documents, and share ideas and concerns. It was a very interesting and fruitful evening and we are very appreciative of the interest and input of those who came.

It was that discussion that shaped our own response to the next stage of the consultation, which, for us,  took place in November, when ACE itself hosted a consultation event in Leeds, which some of us, including myself, were able to attend. It focussed on 6 proposed outcomes for ACE to focus on for 2020/2030:

A. A nation that supports and celebrates culture and creativity of every kind.

B. People from every background benefit from public investment in culture.

C. Creative R&D and talent development are flourishing.

D. England’s diversity is fully reflected in the organisations we support, and in the culture   
     they produce.

E. The creative and cultural lives of all children and young people are recognised and

F.  Cultural organisations are dynamic, focussed on the future, and relevant.

G. England continues to increase its global reputation for the quality of its creative


Interesting and all encompassing, I thought, but of course, the devil will be in the detail and the extent to which one of the “outcomes” is set against the others, and how monies are allocated for each outcome. We had had an internal discussion on how the points on which there was a wide degree of agreement at the “Voices” event could impact on these outcomes, so we were ready to feed them into the discussion. And we did:


1.    That Sheffield should articulate its many cultural strengths more forcefully.

2.    That Sheffield’s community cultural groups are a vital route to community cohesion and

       creative grassroots practice.

3.   Sheffield children, and the creative life of the country, are impoverished by the current

      reduction in the arts curriculum.

4.   Sheffield should support a cultural offering which is relevant and diverse.

5.    Local and regional political, business and cultural leaders should act ambitiously on
       behalf of Sheffield’s cultural life.


We also wanted to comment on the lack of a fair distribution of funds across the country.

Whilst we welcome the start of a process to ensure more money comes into the regions, and are glad that this movement is starting to happen, we are also well aware of just how far there is to go.


We noted ACE’s comment on use of language, with “arts” being widely used to refer by the public to music concerts, ballet and opera, museums and galleries; whereas “culture” was used to encompass a much wider range of activities.

We think the consultation event on Nov 7th was useful and constructive, giving good opportunities to comment and for those comments to be recorded.  However, we do have some concern that ACE, by assuming that Brexit is going to happen ( as stated in its briefing paper for that consultation day: (“Ten Years” )    ( “ ... as we leave the EU...”)  is normalising and hence affirming it as a done deal, contrary to what most cultural organisations (when consulted) regard as their interests. That point was made to them.

That phase of the consultation period ended in early January 2019, and ACE is now drawing up its proposed strategy for the coming decade, expected in Autumn 2019. That too will then be subject to a consultation process.

Ah consultations, consultations!  How we love them! We will try to keep you informed!



Vicky Seddon

Sheffield Visual Arts Group    February 2019

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