Leaders in local authorities and health services have started to recognise the value of arts organisations to their agendas following a series of multi-partner collaborations. 

Photo of choir singing

Five groups of arts and cultural organisations involved in an initiative aimed at strengthening their capacity for cultural commissioning have shared their experiences in a new report.

Published by the Cultural Commissioning Programme, the guiding document, Working with Public Service Commissioners, explains how groups of arts and cultural organisations in Birmingham, Derby, Manchester, Torbay and York have built relationships with commissioners and been recognised as partners by leaders in local authorities and health services.


The report reveals how the five groups, which comprised a diverse set of participants from international cultural organisations to individual artists, have strengthened their links with both public sector commissioners and the wider voluntary sector by working collaboratively to increase their visibility and positioning.

Progress made through the Torbay Locality Project resulted in the Torbay Culture Board contributing to the area’s Sustainability and Transformation plan – the planning document for health provision – and reporting regularly to the Health and Wellbeing Board.

Liz Hill, Director of Devon-based arts education organisation Daisi, which was one of the participants, told AP: “We all see such valuable work taking place every day, with highly skilled creative practitioners working within communities in ways that make such a difference to people’s lives. But without direct connections to the conversations that public service commissioners are having you can feel that you’re shouting into the ether.

“Coming together to explore and focus on how we express the outcomes of our work, to talk to commissioners in person, building the relationship of shared purpose and endeavour, is so useful, and absolutely where we want to be.”

Learning points

A range of learning points for the cultural sector are identified in the report, emphasising the importance of factors such as:

  • building relationships, rather than trying to gain at another partner’s expense
  • seeing yourself through commissioners’ eyes
  • using the right language
  • focusing on high-quality artistic work
  • considering the implications of commissioned work for organisational business models.

In his foreword to the report, Sir Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, which ran the Programme, commented: “For smaller organisations, engagement in public service commissioning is not without challenge… There is more ground to cover but growth in awareness nationally, and shift in practice locally, is encouraging.”

Liz Hill