The cultural sector needs to follow Samuel Beckett’s words and “fail again…fail better”, argues Arts Council England’s Simon Mellor.

A photo of a band on stage surrounded by bright lights
Publicly funded culture has often been seen as an incubator for the commercial creative industries.
Photo: 

Jmoe98 on Wikicommons / CC BY-SA 4.0

In this blog, I’ll discuss the third proposed outcome in Arts Council England’s (ACE) draft strategy: ‘A creative and cultural country’.  Through setting this goal, our aim is for England’s cultural sector to be “innovative, collaborative and international”.

The ambitions we’ve outlined in the first two outcomes around creative people and cultural communities – which I talked about in my last two blogs for ArtsProfessional – won’t be possible without a professional cultural sector that is committed to innovation and aspires to be world-leading. We want the sector to demonstrate these qualities in the way it makes art, in the imagination and expertise with which it manages our collections and develops our libraries, and in the content it creates and distributes.

When it comes to creativity and culture, we often learn our best lessons from our failures.

We want to invest in publicly funded arts organisations, museums and libraries that are highly collaborative and are working with each other to learn best practice, share resources and jointly develop talent. We also want to help those organisations develop new partnerships with further and higher education, the technology sector, the charitable and voluntary sectors and the commercial creative industries. We’ve long talked about publicly funded culture being an incubator for the commercial creative industries. Now is the time for us to embrace and deepen these connections further and build on our economic successes.

At the heart of those partnerships must be a joint commitment to research, risk-taking and experimentation. When it comes to creativity and culture, we often learn our best lessons from our failures. As the great writer Samuel Beckett said: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail Again. Fail better.”

International identity

As this country repositions itself in the world over the next decade, we want our culture and creativity to be central to this country’s international identity. To do this we will seek to develop a cultural sector that is globally connected and committed to working with and learning from the best of international talent. We want to bring the best of world culture here to delight audiences and inspire current and future generations of artists. And we’ll support the development of new international partnerships that build new opportunities for creative exchange, co-investment, trade and joint research.

Our cultural sector can only ever be as strong as the talent on which it is built. Many of our artists have developed global reputations for the quality of their work. However, it is also the case many of our most promising creative practitioners and cultural workers, especially those with disabilities, those from Black or minority ethnic backgrounds, and those from less privileged circumstances, struggle to develop and sustain financially viable careers.

We all have a responsibility to address these injustices. We need to ensure that no matter where you live, and whatever your background, those with promise will be sought out and nurtured. Unless we do this, we can’t hope to develop a vibrant cultural sector that speaks to all our communities and realises its full potential.

Simon Mellor is Deputy Chief Executive, Arts and Culture at Arts Council England.

Do you share ACE’s thinking? Let them know and take part in the draft strategy consultation.

If there’s anything you’d like clarifying before participating in the consultation, ArtsProfessional will be putting questions to ACE to encourage discussion in the sector. Email editors@artsprofessional.co.uk with your question or an issue you'd like us to ask them about. ACE will publish their answers here in future weeks.

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