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As we say good riddance to 2020, Liz Hill takes a glass-half-full look at progress in the cultural sector this year, and what the year ahead might hold.

Candle with a brown card label saying hope attached, christmas decorations in the background
Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

First of all, a huge thank you to all our contributors and sponsors who have been sharing their expertise, experiences, thoughts and opinions in ArtsProfessional during what has been an extraordinary year.

Looking back on your contributions this year we can see a perfect snapshot of what has mattered most to the sector. The thread that runs right through the most-read features of 2020 is a call for this to be a moment of change. In the impending rush to return to ‘normal’, these articles stand as an important reminder that it is a ‘new’ normal we need to be striving for. 

Progress… probably

Taking a glass-half-full perspective on 2020, important progress has already been made in three vital areas – in mindsets, if not in outcomes. 

Firstly, the world has missed the arts. This has prompted a deeper and more widespread recognition of the value they bring to our quality of life – and not just their income-generating potential. The same goes for the value of artists – those uniquely talented and persistently underpaid (or – since April - unpaid) professionals, without whom the arts don’t exist. It’s a hopeful starting point for 2021.

The cultural sector has been called out on its attitude towards diversity. Only time will tell whether that will lead to long-overdue progress, but it’s clear that a box-ticking approach to the many dimensions of diversity is becoming a source of shame. Keeping the pressure on amid the financial constraints ahead will be the challenge that everyone must rise to.

And finally, necessity has been the mother of digital invention. Those who were ahead of the curve were the lockdown winners and are in a good position to lead the sector into its inevitable digital future. Financially viable models will emerge over time. Heads are out of the sand and no one wants to be left behind.

Bubbling under

Next year’s features will hopefully reveal more progress on these three – but there are other themes bubbling under that could well make the top ten next year:

Placemaking: Home-working and the demise of traditional retail will be leaving gaps in our city centres and in our daily lives that cultural activity and facilities can start to fill. It’s an opportunity for big vision by the sector, while civic leaders are actively searching for answers.

Community: The notion that publicly funded arts organisations have a civic role to play is gaining traction and Covid has re-defined the role of many arts organisations in their communities. Post-Covid revival will be swiftest for the organisations that have kept connected with their communities and continue to respond to their specific needs.

AI and VR: However far the sector has progressed with digital this year, most are still behind – way behind – with their understanding of the potential for and impact of new generation technologies. Embracing the future of these will require a big step outside traditional comfort zones and a greater emphaisis on…

Collaboration: Being ‘all in it together’ and recognising that face-to-face meetings aren’t the only way to push new ideas forward has opened new doors and led to a rush of imaginative collaborations. The most exciting of these have stepped outside previous norms and pulled together people and ideas from different artforms, scales, disciplines, and even industries. Silos are dead – let’s hope.

Financial models: Huge flaws in the financial model underpinning the sector have been revealed this year – the worst of them being the undervaluing of artists and creatives. There’s no shortage of suggestions for redressing the balance – several of our top-ten contributors this year have explored some very interesting ideas – but while policy-makers are still heads-down firefighting the current crisis, there will be little thought for the future. The only thing we know for sure is that there won’t be much public money around and imaginative financial solutions will need to be found.

So, as this year - like no other in living memory – draws to a close, let’s keep hope alive by reflecting on the progress that has been made and look towards new horizons that will be different – and hopefully better – than the past.

Thanks to you, our subscribers and advertisers, we will be coming back in the new year, continuing to provide a space where independent thought and freedom of expression can thrive in the sector. We look forward to working with you.

I wish you all a happy and restful time this Christmas.

AP’s top 10 most read features of 2020 were:


“We need collectivity against structural and institutional racism in the cultural sector”
A collective of Black and Asian artists, curators and educators explains how the impenetrable glass ceiling keeps them on the margins – and why public statements promising reviews, reports and diversity panels cut no ice.

Paradigm shift: why the arts need to rethink what matters
Thousands of people from every background are developing and showcasing their creative skills online in a huge variety of forms, easing the stresses of lockdown. The nurturing of this ‘Everyday Creativity’ in people’s homes, communities and workplaces should be at the forefront of arts policy as we emerge from the current crisis, says Nick Ewbank.

Five steps towards a new future
A structured reflection process can support arts leaders to find tentative answers to the overwhelming problems they are facing. Richard Watts offers a framework to guide the process.

After the crisis – a new model for the arts?
Subsidy doesn’t shield or separate arts activities from the economic system; it enables them to be part of it, says Stephen Hetherington. Wringing more value out of creative assets could deliver new sources of finance.

When the audiences go, what happens to the buildings left behind?
While our concert halls, theatres, galleries and museums sit empty, dedicated teams take centre stage to make sure venues are ready for our return. Kieron Lillis explains the challenge facing the National Theatre.

Life after Covid: who will survive?
Over the coming weeks, arts funders and philanthropists must make heart-rending decisions about who will survive. A coordinated approach to capitalising the sector is needed, says Alan Brown.

The human impact of avoiding controversy
Reflecting on being wrongfully dismissed by the Royal Academy of Music, Dr Francesca Carpos says the sector must create a culture where controversial issues can be discussed without fear of unfair retribution.

I shouldn’t have been ‘cancelled’ for my vulgar jokes
Yes, my crude social media posts may have caused offence – but we can't only allow speech we find agreeable, says Manick Govinda.

Power to the people: how arts charities will have to change over the next 10 years
Arts charities are becoming organisational dinosaurs with models not fit for purpose. Rise to the challenge or face extinction, says Michelle Wright.

Three reasons why ACE’s new strategy won’t cut it
As Arts Council England prepares to publish its next ten-year strategy, thought leaders suggest a radical alternative.

Link to Author(s): 
Liz Hill