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An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with the Cultural Commissioning Programme

The benefits of commissioners working with the arts sector have been highlighted by pilot schemes in Kent and Gloucestershire. Jessica Harris shares the details.

Photo of a girl in the Infinity box
Infinity Box at Turner Contemporary

Mandy Quy-Verlander

For the past two years the Cultural Commissioning Programme (CCP) has been working with the arts and cultural sector to strengthen its knowledge and skills to help it engage with public services. This has helped bring to a wider stage the value that the sector offers local communities, health and wellbeing and quality of life.

But we’ve also been working with those in public services to develop awareness of the benefits of working with the arts sector and to foster relationships. In this article we document our work with two commissioning partner pilots to help them improve their approaches to commissioning, and enable arts organisations to connect with them and be funded for delivery of services and outcomes.

The sector is recognised for its ability to focus on strengths and opportunity, not on deficits, and to work with people in a way that doesn’t stigmatise

Our pilots (Kent County Council and Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group) have evidence that when arts and cultural organisations team up with public authorities, they can deliver effective outcomes for people and communities.

The services that the arts can help deliver are wide-ranging, from community mental health through to support for early years. The value this brings is recognised as unique by many in public services. The sector is recognised for its ability to focus on strengths and opportunity, not on deficits, and to work with people in a way that doesn’t stigmatise. It is also seen as excellent in retaining people’s involvement since the activities are creative, sociable and fun.

Barriers to the arts

The most common barriers preventing arts and cultural organisations from engaging with local authority services and the health sector that we found through this work are:

  • inappropriate procurement approaches
  • inflexible services specifications that exclude non-traditional services
  • not being invited to market engagement events
  • a ‘burden of proof’ which existing providers often do not face.

Our work with Kent and Gloucestershire has shown how commissioners can make changes to remove these barriers and work successfully with the arts and cultural sector. The support of other key players has been key to this, showing the importance of partnership work, vision and a willingness to innovate.

Innovative approaches

In Kent, the local authority’s arts and cultural service has been central to the work, and arts and cultural organisations are being brought into new commissioning opportunities. These include a £4m community-based mental health service, early help and preventative services for around £8m, and the recommissioning of Kent’s £50m waste management service, where arts and cultural organisations have been engaged alongside traditional providers to generate fresh ideas about how to help the community understand the impact of waste on the environment.

In Gloucestershire, Create Gloucestershire (a consortium of local arts organisations) and the Gloucestershire Voluntary and Community Sector Alliance have played a key role in convening and supporting the arts and cultural sector, and enabling relationships with commissioners.

The clinical commissioning group has funded a project manager to lead the programme, and invested £150,000 to run nine projects that are using arts and culture within a range of clinical pathways, including cancer, mental health and diabetes. It is also exploring how arts and cultural activities can be aligned with the countywide social prescribing scheme.

Feedback on this work from leaders and commissioners of services demonstrates the value that they attach to it. Emma Hanson, Head of Strategic Commissioning Community Support at Kent County Council, said: “If we are really thinking about the outcomes that matter to individuals we have to move away from providing services and getting a diverse offer to meet a diversity of needs. Arts and culture can be part of that journey towards providing person-centred services.’’

Report and recommendations

The Art of Commissioning report (and its summary) draw out the learning from these pilots and has been produced by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) for us. This is based on NEF’s work over an 18-month period with Kent County Council and Gloucestershire CCG, and will be used to influence other commissioners, stakeholders and policy-makers across England.

Arts and cultural organisations can use the following findings and recommendations in their own discussions with local commissioners:

  • If you see value in strengthening your relationships with arts and cultural organisations in your area, gather some like-minded people into a steering group and explore how the sector can help deliver your priorities. Invite arts and cultural organisations to speak at events, to stimulate conversations on new approaches.
  • Make sure that you invite arts and cultural organisations to your market engagement events so that they can hear your plans for future commissions and contribute ideas to service design, to ensure real benefits for people and communities. Discuss and respond to any training and capacity needs which arts and cultural providers may have.
  • Focus tenders on the outcomes that you want, and invite arts providers to say how they can deliver these. By specifically referencing your interest in working with the arts and cultural sector in a tender, you will be sending out a strong message of encouragement.
  • Work with arts organisations to develop a range of appropriate measures for work you contract them to deliver. Ask for a balance of evidence, both quantitative and qualitative, draw on evidence of the sector’s impact from elsewhere, and ensure that your requirements for evidence are proportionate.

Service documents have been produced by our two pilots showing how both organisations have written the arts and cultural sector into their services specifications at a strategic level:

  • Kent County Council’s service specification for the Community Mental Health and Wellbeing service.
  • Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group’s grants programme to run nine feasibility projects.

Resources to draw on pre-existing evidence of impact of the arts and cultural sector are here.

Second phase

From July the Cultural Commissioning Programme moves into a second phase focussing on:

  • Maintaining and developing strategic influence nationally with key organisations, to encourage them to develop policies which support cultural commissioning, and embed support for it within existing programmes and initiatives
  • Further legitimising cultural commissioning by securing recognition of practical work and achievements on the ground by national bodies and stakeholders.

Jessica Harris is Cultural Commissioning Programme Manager at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.

The Cultural Commissioning Programme is an Arts Council England funded programme which supports the arts and cultural sector to engage with public service commissioning, and also works with commissioners to raise their awareness and understanding of how the arts and cultural sector can help deliver their outcomes. It is delivered by a partnership of National Council for Voluntary Organisations (lead partner), NPC and NEF.

This article, sponsored and contributed by the Cultural Commissioning Programme, is part of a series exploring opportunities for arts organisations, museums and library services to engage in public service commissioning.

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Photo of Jessica Harris