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A new report urges Arts Council England to raise the profile of the successful capital projects it funds and take better advantage of the knowledge gained during the developments.

Inside Storyhouse
Inside Storyhouse, the Chester arts centre which re-opened after a £37m capital project in 2017

The experiences of arts professionals who have been involved in capital projects should be better shared so that their expertise can be utilised and lessons learned, a new report concludes. 

Assessing six years of capital projects funded by Arts Council England (ACE), the report says that a network of expertise has been created, but this is “not being fully exploited or acknowledged”.

It encourages ACE to pay more attention to disseminating learning and giving the programme a “much higher profile than it currently has”. 

Knowledge sharing

The report, by Alchemy research and consultancy, is intended to help ACE understand the impact of its investment and its success in achieving outcomes including efficiency savings, organisational resilience and partnership working.

It notes £344m was invested in 265 applicants between 2012-18, and that over 90% of projects of all sizes were completed within three years.

But it concludes more attention needs to be paid to improving data collection, monitoring and evaluation, and that there needs to be “greater clarity” around success measures including environmental sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and resilience. 

Assessing impact

The report says the 87 large funded projects collectively attracted an additional £117m, and the 178 small projects pulled in £44m from other sources – with consistent comments that projects would not have been possible without support from ACE.

It also praises recipients for securing architecture awards, particularly in a rapidly-changing environment that is “volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous”.

“This environment has had wide ranging impacts on arts organisations – from the need for more innovative income generation to becoming dementia friendly, from looking to new forms of organisational design to supporting schools in delivering cultural education,” the report reads. 

“Arts and cultural buildings have become mechanisms for driving and/or supporting new operating models.”

Future challenge 

Reflecting on the conclusions, Jon Morgan, Director of the Theatres Trust – which provides advice and support on theatre design, operation, planning and placemaking on over 200 capital projects a year – said the organisation would “welcome the opportunity” to support ACE and ensure investments are targeted in the right way.

But he reminded ACE of the need for large scale investment in the coming years to ensure theatres are future-proofed. 

“Recent research by Theatres Trust and UK Theatre has identified that an estimate of over £1billion of capital works are required on theatres across the UK over the next 5 years to ensure they can adapt and thrive in the future,” he told AP.

“As a key player in the funding of capital works it is crucial that ACE reverses the sharp decline in funding allocated for capital projects and recognises the importance of supporting the wider network of theatres beyond its own funded clients which make up under 13% of all active theatres in England, including the more than 300 community run theatres which do so much to widen access and respond to the needs of their  communities.”