Arts, culture and heritage workforce '90% white'

14 May 2024

Findings from a new report using census data to map the arts, culture and heritage workforce across England, Wales and Northern Ireland underscores inequalities in gender, ethnicity and social class across the sector.

Place isn’t just geography – it affects how we feel

Image of bridge across Tyne with Glasshouse International Centre for Music, Gateshead
21 Mar 2024

Cara Pickering and Sarie Mairs Slee examine how place-based collaboration can support innovative, creative-led regeneration of our towns and cities.

‘Make it SO’

17 May 2022

In the last in our series profiling the shortlisted candidates for City of Culture 2025, Claire Whitaker says Southampton has been connecting the UK with people across the globe for thousands of years.

‘Our Time, Our Place’

Young people from Bradford send off for the district's official UK City of Culture 2025 bid
19 Apr 2022

In the second in our series profiling the shortlisted candidates for City of Culture 2025, Shanaz Gulzar shares how Bradford's young people shaped a bid that awakened a sleeping giant of a city.

‘The past we inherit, the future we build’

Durham miners' gala
06 Apr 2022

In the first in a series profiling the shortlisted candidates for UK City of Culture 2025, Alison Clark introduces the county whose bid is inspired by the Durham Miners Association.

A louder Tees Valley voice

A woman in a dressing gown standing on a table by a river bed
20 May 2024

Tees Valley Combined Authority has launched a radical new programme for artists which could provide a groundbreaking model for other authorities, writes Charlie Kemp

Public in favour of council support for museums

15 May 2024

There is strong public support for local authority funding of museums, a survey has found.

YouGov research commissioned by Art Fund and the National Museum Directors' Council (NMDC) found that 74% of people said local government should provide at least half of its funding, with 45% saying that councils should provide most or all of it.

Meanwhile, 89% of UK adults think museums are important to UK culture, while 76% think local museums add value to their area.

Nearly half of those surveyed (47%) said that museums in the UK should be mostly or entirely funded by government. Only 3% said museums should be wholly funded by private investment or income generation.

The survey also found that 44% of people knew public funding for local museums had decreased since 2022, with only 9% thinking it had stayed the same and 4% thinking it had increased.

When asked how they would feel if their local museum were to close, 54% said they would feel disappointed, 41% would feel sad, 19% would be angry, and 16% would feel frustrated.

Campaigners call on council to save art centre

14 May 2024

Campaigners have called on Shropshire Council to protect a charity-run art centre amid concerns that the local authority plans to sell the building.

English Bridge Workshop at Abbey Foregate has provided studio spaces for local artists and community groups since 1985. The building is council-owned but run by the charity Makespace CIC.

The charity says its trustees have been working with the council for several years to investigate the possibility of a community asset transfer, which would hand over ownership of the building to the charity.

However, the council, which is facing a £60m funding gap, has announced that "all plans for community use of the building are on hold".

Councillor Kate Halliday told Shropshire Star: "The English Bridge Workshop has been an invaluable asset for the community for decades. So many residents from Shrewsbury and beyond have attended gigs, meetings, events and classes in the building over the years. Many of the regular classes provide a lifeline for people."

Campaigners are hosting a public meeting on 20 May to "unite community members, artists, and historians to brainstorm ways to protect and celebrate" the centre.

Council urged to ditch cultural regeneration plans

CGI image of the Our Cultural Heart plans showing the new food hall and public square
14 May 2024

Think tank calls for Kirklees Council to abandon plans to demolish a former shopping centre that currently houses artists, community groups and new business startups.

Delayed Bristol Beacon report due ‘later this year’

13 May 2024

An overdue report into ‘lessons learned’ during the costly refurbishment of Bristol Beacon concert hall will be published later this year, according to a council spokesperson. 

External auditors Grant Thornton had called on the council to issue a report "as soon as possible" before the completion of the Bristol Beacon project in November. But last summer, Bristol City Council admitted the full report would not be published until February 2024 - a deadline that has since passed.

Grant Thornton previously criticised the council for “underestimating the complexity and difficulty” of the build, which resulted in spiralling costs and a disagreement between the local authority and the trust that runs the building.

The initial budget for the building, which originally opened in 1867 and was previously known as Colston Hall, was £49m, of which £10m was due to come from Bristol City Council.

However, the final cost was £132m, including £83.9m from the council, £44m raised by music education charity Bristol Music Trust, and £22m from Arts Council England.

The venue is owned by the local authority but is run by Bristol Music Trust on a 30-year lease arrangement with no break clause.

Marvin Reese, former Mayor of Bristol who left office last week after his post was abolished, previously alluded to difficulties in the project run by Bristol City Council, saying it was a “journey that’s taken many twists and turns along the way".

“Challenges in the shape of a building filled with unknown complexities and hidden secrets, a global pandemic, national cost-of-living crisis and the pressure this is putting on the construction industry have all been navigated to get to this point,” said Reese.

In April 2023, the council announced it wished to "identify alternative operational models" for the venue to ensure it "receives value for money for its investment."

This prompted Arts Council England to seek "urgent" talks with the council, following which Bristol Music Trust remained at the helm of the building.

Council management had said that a review exercise into the project began at the end of June 2023 and was “designed to provide critical lessons learned and stimulate important insights".

In an update, a spokesperson for Bristol City Council said, " A lessons-learned report is being prepared and will be available later this year [2024].”

Last week, it was announced that Bristol Beacon would receive almost £2m from the Department for Education to become the lead music hub for the West of England.

The Beacon, which already delivers a citywide music education programme to over 30,000 children and young people in Bristol, plans to spend £1,455,692 on coordinating music education in the local area and £478,183 on new musical instruments, equipment and technology for young people.

Music initiative to support dementia sufferers to launch 

08 May 2024

A three-year programme of musical support activities to help people with dementia will launch later this year after funding of £1m was secured.

A combination of awards from the Power of Music Fund, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham and NHS Greater Manchester will fund three years of direct musical support activities across all of Greater Manchester’s 10 boroughs.

Manchester Camerata will partner with Alzheimer’s Society and the University of Manchester to run music cafes in a bid to help take pressure off frontline health and care staff.

The organisations intend to recruit and train a volunteer and community workforce of 300 ‘Music Champions’ to deliver the music cafes, helping to support over 1,000 people living with dementia in the area.

Bob Riley, Chief Executive of Manchester Camerata, said: “This is a colossal moment built on over 10 years of work and research in partnership with The University of Manchester. 

"We know it will bring much-needed support for people living with dementia and their carers. It will create new opportunities for our amazing musicians in the UK and bring about changes in the way we invest in music to bring the widest possible benefits to society."

Birmingham Council 'making cuts based on imagined data'

03 May 2024

Cuts to a wide range of services across Birmingham including arts and culture are based on "imagined data", it has been claimed.

According to The Guardian, sources inside the Labour-led council said the local authority’s finances were in disarray as a result of a faulty IT system rollout and a £760m equal pay liability bill, which led it to effectively declare bankruptcy, and could be hugely overstated.

Liberal Democrat Councillor Paul Tilsley said: “The figure of £760m is a figment of someone’s imagination, in my opinion. If you look at the estimated claimants, the numbers are just incompatible, it defies financial imagination.

“And this figure is ruining this city. We’re going to see the real basic infrastructure of the city, things like libraries, closed and sold off, and when they’re gone they can’t be replicated. I’m seeing the heart ripped out of my city.”

A spokesperson for Birmingham City Council said: “In early 2023, there were a variety of estimates of equal pay liability, which were wide-ranging and clearly needed further work. Further detailed analysis was requested and subsequently the findings were shared with the public and all members of this council.

“Since then the council has worked tirelessly with trade unions and the commissioners to agree a job evaluation scheme that will help to end the equal pay liability once and for all.

“A budget for the next two years was approved by full council in March. We must now focus on how we spend what we have in the most effective way, and we are committed to getting the basics right across a whole range of service areas.”

Theatres collaborate with council for community programme

30 Apr 2024

Shakespeare North Playhouse and Warrington-based independent theatre company Not Too Tame have partnered with Warrington Borough Council to offer a programme of local events and workshops aimed at communities who may otherwise not be able to afford theatre tickets.

The scheme will see spoken word events and workshops held across Warrington in May and "pop-up performances" of Twelfth Night in June.

“Not Too Tame and Shakespeare North Playhouse have an excellent track record of creating innovative, high-quality theatre experiences,” said Eleanor Blackburn, Warrington Borough Council’s head of inclusive economy, leisure and culture.

“We’re incredibly excited about this new collaboration, which will bring a fresh and inclusive take on Twelfth Night to audiences this June.

“It’s also great news that, in the run-up to June, people in Warrington will be able to enjoy a range of performances, events and workshops.

“It’s a great way of connecting with people of all ages and bringing the magic of theatre direct to our communities.”

Open auditions were held for the show, which Warrington Borough Council supported through the Government’s UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

“We are delighted to partner with Warrington Council to bring this ground-breaking production to fruition,” said Claire Will, Director of Marketing and Commercial at Shakespeare North Playhouse.

“Together, we are not only reimagining Shakespeare for contemporary audiences but also empowering diverse voices and communities.”

Plans to reopen Oldham Coliseum 'back on the table'

The exterior of the Oldham coliseum building
29 Apr 2024

Council says it is working on plans to bring the historic venue back to life following its controversial closure last year.

Central Bedfordshire consults on first arts strategy

29 Apr 2024

Residents and cultural organisations are being asked to share their views on a draft strategy for the future of arts and culture in Central Bedfordshire.

Central Bedfordshire Council said the draft strategy, which will become the district's first arts and culture strategy, sets goals to create a "thriving cultural landscape" over the next five years.

A consultation on a draft library services strategy for the next five years is also being held.

Mary Walsh, the council's Executive Member responsible for libraries, arts and culture, said: "A vibrant arts and cultural scene can help communities come together, increase footfall in our town centres and villages, promote health and wellbeing, and give people a sense of pride in where they live. 

"Evidence shows it can also create a prosperous economy, enriching lives through diverse cultural experiences.  

"Our library services strategy emphasises our commitment to ensuring libraries continue to be vibrant community spaces, as well as high-quality centres for learning and participation that are accessible to all.

"It’s important that both these strategies align with community aspirations and needs. We urge people to get involved with this consultation, look at the work we have done so far, which sets out a series of actions to help us achieve our aims, and help shape the future of arts and culture and our library services in Central Bedfordshire."

The Libraries Strategy consultation is open until 23 June, and the Arts and Culture Strategy consultation is open until 21 July.

Theatre added to council's Levelling Up proposal

25 Apr 2024

The Swan Theatre in Worcester has been added to a list of organisations set to benefit from a share of £5m of Levelling Up funding after Worcester City Council (WCC) was given an extension on submitting its spending plans.

The council was originally expected to deliver its final plan on 10 May, but the deadline has been moved to 3 June.

The original spending strategy included awarding £1.6m to create space for more events and exhibitions at the Corn Exchange, £900,000 to create a sustainable events venue at Pitchcroft and £742,000 to refurbish the Gheluvelt Park bandstand.

In its updated proposal, which was put before the Policy and Resources Committee on 23 April, the council has added a £155,000 grant to The Swan Theatre to improve the foyer and accessibility, including a new lift, accessible toilet, and changing facilities.

Just two years ago, The Swan was saved from closure after Worcester City Council scrapped plans to sell it off to fund a multimillion-pound project to build a new arts venue in the city on the site of the listed Scala Theatre and Corn Exchange buildings.

Other projects added to WCC's Levelling Up proposals include £65,000 for a mobile music vehicle £65,000, £350,000 to acquire a building as office and storage space for the Scala, and £22,000 on a portable outdoor stage.

Legal issue prevents council from selling artworks

22 Apr 2024

Middlesborough Council has decided against selling artwork from its £32.5m collection to help avoid bankruptcy after research into the legalities of the process concluded it could result in the "threat of significant legal challenges".

Director of Regeneration Richard Horniman said it could also affect future grant funding for the town.

Horniman told councillors: “Following some joint work between ourselves and Mima (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art), it is clear that the ownership of the artworks is legally open to interpretation and therefore a challenge.

"For example, the LS Lowry painting was donated by the artist to the council for the people of Middlesbrough."

“The council technically own [the Lowry painting] but wouldn’t be able to try and sell it without the threat of significant legal challenge.

"Recent examples have shown it is very easy to prevent such sales and cause huge reputational damage in the process.”

Middlesbrough Council is one of at least 19 local authorities to receive exceptional financial support from the government, to help it avoid effective bankruptcy.

A spokesperson for ACE told the BBC that although they understood the financial difficulties faced by local authorities, selling off art should not be used to cover short-term gaps in funding as it would “erode the long-held and hard-won trust that the public have in museums and will cause irreversible damage to the UK’s cultural inheritance.”

LA funding survey: Fears of 'unsustainable' strain on trusts

18 Apr 2024

Council cuts to arts budgets have left charitable trusts and foundations 'overwhelmed' with applications for funding as arts and culture organisations attempt to source alternative income.

Harlow Council's plans for new arts quarter given green light

16 Apr 2024

Plans for a new arts and cultural quarter in Essex have been give the green light by a council planning committee.

Harlow Council secured £19.6m of government funding in 2023 to be spent regenerating the town centre's Playhouse Square and College Square.

The plans include major improvements to the Harlow Playhouse, which will be extended.

Land to the west of the theatre will be redeveloped to create a new live performance and music venue with a music school and recording studio.

A public square for events, outdoor performances, a cinema and outdoor dining will also be created.

Council officers described the planning application as "exemplary" and praised its "high-quality" design.

Harlow Council said the redevelopment will "bring people to the town".

Historic windmill closes after council ends funding

10 Apr 2024

A 19th-Century Hampshire windmill that houses a display of historic farming artefacts has closed following the withdrawal of council funding from its operator.

Eastleigh Borough Council terminated its funding agreement with Hampshire Culture Trust (HCT) in February last year.

The trust then requested that Hampshire County Council (HCC) allow it to end operations at the Grade II-listed Bursledon Windmill.

HCT has been responsible for providing the council’s museum and heritage services since 2014, the same year that the windmill had its wind shaft and sails replaced following a £94,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant.

A report found that the trust had made efforts to keep the windmill open by diversifying revenue through grants, donations or commercial opportunities but said it would not be "sufficient to support the financial viability of the venue".

The historic items displayed at the windmill may now be transferred to the authority or a new operator.

Earlier this year, HCT warned that five more venues, out of the 24 it operates, face closure after HCC, its primary funder, proposed reducing its annual funding from £2.5m to £1.9m by 2027.

The trust, an ACE National Portfolio Organisation, said Ashcroft Arts Centre in Fareham, Westbury Manor Museum and Eastleigh Museum are expected to shut early next year, while Curtis Museum in Alton and Andover Museum and the Museum of the Iron Age are facing withdrawal by 2026.

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