New ACE business plan responds to ministerial pressures to be more "democratic".
Arts Council England's (ACE) corporate plan for 2006-08, published last week, has responded directly to recent Government demands that the organisation adopt a "democratic vision for culture". The vision statement at the heart of the document indicates a shift in core values from ACE's previous business plan, published in 2002. The new statement pledges to put "the arts at the heart of national life and people at the heart of the arts." Previous acknowledgement of art's potential to transform lives has been dropped in favour of ambitions to offer "everyone in the country... the opportunity to develop a rich and varied artistic and creative life and to emphasise participation in all that we do."
The 'Agenda for the arts 2006-08' has six priorities: taking part in the arts, children and young people, the creative economy, vibrant communities, internationalism and celebrating diversity. The document also affirms that ACE will focus on visual arts over the period. 'Turning Point', the new 10-year strategy for the visual arts, will be published later this month, and it is anticipated that it will have as dramatic an effect on artists as the 2001 Theatre Review had on the performing arts sector.
Strategic elements in the business plan that are most likely to affect arts organisations are reflective of wider social, technological and economic factors. The plan refers to the ways that "the Internet and mobile phone have revolutionised lives... [offering] significant new opportunities for arts content to reach entirely new and much larger audiences." As a consequence, ACE intends to "broaden [its] approach to distribution, going beyond live touring to include broadcasting, publishing and new technologies, exploring new partnerships and opening new markets for artists and audiences alike." Citing "communities built with soul" and those built without soul, there is also a call for the arts to be more closely involved in regeneration initiatives and in the massive home-building programme being initiated in the south east of England. ACE will also start to fund artists to work abroad with particular emphasis on building ongoing relationships with arts organisations in Brazil and China.
In recent months, Culture Minister, David Lammy, has put pressure on ACE to "reform" and to "fulfil a democratic vision for culture" and, it is no surprise that the document is dominated by an emphasis on participation. Whereas the business plan which expired earlier this year focused on the artist as the "life-source" of ACE's work, this plan frequently reiterates ACE's "need to connect better with the public those who attend and participate and those who don't". It includes a commitment to launch a public value enquiry "talking with and listening to a wide range of people, testing with them what the Arts Council stands for, what we should prioritise and what services we should offer in the future." At the same time, a review of the portfolio of regularly funded organisations will take place in 2007 "to ensure it reflects the cultural and artistic aspirations of the country."