Regional Cultural Consortia (RCCs) were set up to provide a route for advising ministers; to stimulate greater strategic coherence between cultural funders, providers and activities; to promote cross-sector partnerships; to bring together cultural interests to create the main channel for debating cultural matters; and to ensure a strong voice for culture. The resulting vision would ensure that culture plays a full part in contributing to the quality of life and the increasing prosperity of the region and that key cultural priorities would lead to the improved delivery of services. The leadership of an RCC such as the East Midlands Cultural Consortium, has required a recipe of 4 Cs, 2 Ps and a good dash of H, says Venu Dhupa.

The first C is for clarity of vision:

  • Create an effective, committed membership, capable of a respectable work rate, strategic thinking, generosity of spirit and driven by the right reasons.
  • Make sense of the regional landscape in terms of bodies representing cultural interests.
  • Create a framework for clear communication, reporting, partnerships between regional bodies, funders, the voluntary sector, local government, the education sector, the Regional Assembly, the Regional Development Agency and other interested parties.
  • Create a framework that could consider links outside the region, nationally and internationally.
  • Agree some common definitions as not all Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) bodies work to the same definition of the creative or cultural industries.
  • Keep overall aims in mind.

The second C is for courage:

  • Admit we don’t know it all either individually or as a sector. There is a huge task in bringing coherence and consistency to, in some cases, pitiful data. Raising awareness of the need for this without alienating an overworked and enthusiastic sector requires diplomacy.
  • Take action, listening to and hearing as many opinions about culture and what it means to the region, as possible.
  • Knock on the door of ministers and senior civil servants and bring anomalies and inconsistencies (that could severely skew our work) in their operations out into the open.
  • Hold one’s ground with the big boys with the large budgets such as the Regional Development Agencies.
  • Accept that you won’t be liked by everyone but that you have to do what you believe to be right.

The third C, creativity, was a must to:

  • Find new and ingenious ways to problem solve.
  • Make small amounts of money go a long way.
  • Devise ways of speaking to the people of the East Midlands as well as opinion formers and the DCMS.
  • Encourage the membership to work in unusual ways.
  • Continually reinforce the distinctive role of the East Midlands Cultural Consortium.

The fourth C is for commitment:

Combining this role with my job as Executive Director of the Nottingham Playhouse meant that in the early months my schedule was punishing. But I am now convinced that those involved in making high level strategies should have experience of delivery and confront the effects of their thinking on deliverers. Commitment to the idea means you have to open yourself up to new experiences from other creative industry sectors and beyond and put in special efforts outside your own field of expertise. It is essential to travel round the region and be as accessible as possible.

P is for passion to:

  • Harness the expertise and drive the membership, maintaining momentum towards goals.
  • See the remarkable possibilities of potential synergies between sectors.
  • Ensure profile for our work and our achievements is maintained.

Another P, patience, was needed to plough through and deal with the mountain of paperwork and to follow through the sometimes tedious DCMS and other tortuous processes! We also had to accept and plan that progress would be slow if we wanted to be inclusive.

Humility was perhaps the most important. What constitutes culture and cultural activity to one group may not to another. Snobbery should not be tolerated. Keep an open mind and enjoy the fact that culture can be A Winter’s Tale… Carmen… DJ Dub and MC Easy… Footie in the park… a ghost walk round a stately home… and be prepared to get involved.

Every single Regional Cultural Consortium has achieved its key objective and we now wait as the Secretary of State and her ministers decide our fate. There are probably four options:

  1. Encourage them to evolve into bodies with more clout with a greater influence over expenditure of funds and funding packages for the region.
  2. Maintain them as think tanks.
  3. Do away with them altogether.
  4. Create new bodies to revisit and deliver the strategies. (I hear a collective sigh from the already crowded regional landscape.)

Venu Dhupa is Chair of East Midlands Cultural Consortium. t: 020 7645 9500; e: venu.dhupa@nesta.org.uk

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