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Sarah Stannage warns that many arts organisations may be missing out on European and Government funding available through Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Image of Raspberry Pi workshop at Wysing Arts
Mixing arts with the creative digital economy: artists taking part in a Raspberry Pi research workshop at Wysing Arts

Mike Cameron

Many arts organisations could lose out on access to £5.2 billion (€6.2 billion) of European funding as well as the Government’s Local Growth Fund for 2015/16, which is expected to amount to around £2 billion in its first year. England’s 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are to submit their European Structural and Investment Fund strategies at the end of January with Strategic Economic Plans due at the end of March.

There is widespread recognition of the role arts and culture play in helping drive local economic growth. Yet as plans are finalised by the LEPs, it is clear there is still much to do to make sure culture is hardwired into what appear to be our main local delivery vehicles for economic growth.

It has been a period of frenetic activity for the LEPs. The LEP Network met with a range of organisations that want to play their part in boosting local economies. David Frost, chair of the LEP Network, met with Arts Council England (ACE) last year and will be attending a roundtable meeting with them in March. Frost says: “There needs to be a long-term view regarding growth funding. Arts and culture will play a strong role in some parts of the country but it is determined by the individual LEPs and their priority sectors for high growth.”

European Regional Development Fund priority areas for Structural and Investment Fund strategies:

  • Innovation
  • ICT
  • SME competiveness
  • Low carbon
  • Climate change adaption
  • Environmental protection
  • Sustainable transport
  • Skills

The six most common sectors for high growth in draft strategic economic plans:

  • Advanced manufacturing and engineering
  • Creative and cultural industries
  • Energy including green energy
  • Finance and business aervices
  • Life sciences
  • Tourism

European Social Fund priorities in Structural and Investment Funds:

  • Employment
  • Social inclusion

ACE’s new round of regular national portfolio organisation (NPO) funding will also be eligible as a match for the LEPs’ European Structural and Investment Fund allocations in the period 2015–18. The intention is to encourage long-term relationships to form between the LEPs and the NPOs including partner museums. On the face of it, the potential for national match funding around a priority ‘theme’ and encouraging more locally shaped projects seem appropriate to the UK localism agenda. But how will funding be distributed across the country, given the complexities for achieving a regional balance versus possible focus for growth towards the eight ‘core cities’ outside London (Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Manchester and Sheffield), five of which are based in the north?

Local brokerage, knowledge and definitions of the cultural economy will be key to working with the LEPs

While wanting to avoid the situation of creating a new dependency on public funding, many argue that there is a need for a step change in public policy that makes access to development funding fairer and more equitable to all. Robin Simpson of Voluntary Arts Network points out: “Our challenge is to help connect local voluntary and creative cultural activity to emerging policy and funding opportunities, as local volunteer-run organisations rarely have the capacity to engage directly with LEPs or similar structures.”

Joining a sub-committee or forum that feeds into a LEP would seem an obvious and sensible way to co-ordinate input from the arts sector. A number of consortiums, as well as stand-alone partnerships, have emerged across the country bringing together cultural agencies, organisations and practitioners to inform the LEP decision and policy-making processes. Newcastle Gateshead Cultural Venues is an example of a consortium of cultural organisations, including the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, which is working with the North East LEP. Within the east, New Anglia LEP for Suffolk and Norfolk has structured nine separate sub-committees with voluntary members from a range of sectors to feed into its main LEP board covering ICT, energy, advanced manufacturing, tourism, life sciences, cultural, digital and creative, ports and logistics and finance. But the evidence of such structures is patchy across all 39 LEPs.

Wysing Arts Centre benefited from regional development funding under the last government. Director Donna Lynas understands the importance of working with others to make the case for culture in local growth priorities: “It has taken a while for us to understand the potential of the LEP and how to engage culture within strategic planning for the LEP area here in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Equally, it has been difficult to self-organise a group of cultural leaders to pull together a coherent offer, as everyone is incredibly busy and there isn’t always a defined process for engaging in a conversation with the LEP. A couple of key individuals involved in the LEP opened the door to culture at the right moment. The fact is that if arts and culture are not in the conversation then they could simply be forgotten or ignored. Whilst any real funding may seem distant and intangible, the process of having conversations with those involved in setting the strategic direction of our area has hopefully opened up new conversations that can be built upon.”

Local brokerage, knowledge and definitions of the cultural economy will be key to working with the LEPs. According to Dr Abigail Gilmore, Senior Lecturer in Arts Management at University of Manchester, the history of local cultural strategies, creative industries development and community strategies, previously under the aegis of Local Strategic Partnerships, has demonstrated the importance of understanding the value and contribution of creative and cultural activities in relation to established and shared definitions. For example, encouraging craft practitioners and makers to self-identify as creative industries within local mapping exercises has led to their inclusion in local business and tourism development, through incubation and promotional initiatives in rural areas such as Shropshire and Herefordshire.

Similarly the positioning of arts and culture within directorates and task groups which reflect and map on to priorities for investment – whether infrastructure, innovation or skills − will be crucial. The remit and language of enterprise, growth and targeted deregulation will not work for all, particularly those unwilling or unable to refashion themselves in alliance with visitor economies, destination management and business enterprise zones. However, these kinds of outputs are little different to those which have been preoccupying arts organisations for years, albeit with a focus on economic growth and impact rather than other kinds of social or cultural impacts or values.

The collective challenge remains for us to continue deepening the relationship between the arts and wider economy. Keeping a watchful eye on the LEPs, the priorities they focus on, their structure and key protagonists will be important.

Sarah Stannage is a policy and cultural sector researcher.

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