Written evidence submitted by Centre for Cultural Value and Culture Commons
Centre for Cultural Value and Culture Commons submission to the DCMS Select Committee enquiry: ‘Reimagining where we live: cultural placemaking and the levelling up agenda’.
Submitted 18th February 2022
● Narrowing economy-wide and sector-specific disparities we see between London/the southeast and the rest of the UK, and addressing the starker disparities we also see within regions - all while maintaining the support that our creative clusters need to succeed[i] - presents one of the most significant cultural policy challenges of our time.
● The uneven distribution of creative businesses and cultural workforce[ii], sectoral productivity and cultural infrastructure[iii], places obstacles in the way of local areas trying to unlock the transformative potential of culture.
● Our research demonstrates that cultural activity can support in the realisation of cross-cutting policy objectives at the local level, including improving the mental health of young people[iv]; combating social isolation in older people[v]; and facilitating civic engagement.[vi] It can also kickstart regeneration in “left behind” areas through the significant economic spill over and multiplier effects they engender in communities.[vii]
● Collectively, and despite budgetary pressures, local authorities are still the biggest investors in the creative and cultural life of the nation, with a growing number of case studies clearly demonstrating the catalytic potential of culture-led regeneration programmes.[viii]
● The UK Government’s levelling up agenda now provides an opportunity to move the narrative on from what culture can do for places as a “tool”, towards a deeper understanding of how cultural opportunities, capacity and access to local culture can be opened to everyone, regardless of where they live.
● To do this, the UK Government must develop a robust statutory framework for understanding and improving, not just measuring ‘Pride in Place’, and resource local authorities, arm’s-length bodies and cultural programmes appropriately to ensure they can meaningfully contribute to meeting levelling up targets.
Culture can reanimate public spaces and shopping streets by:
1.1. Complementing and building on existing policy priorities and local identities. Public spaces create a sense of identity and local pride when they are enlivened by cultural activity that complements and enriches the lives of local people.[ix] For this reason, there is no one-size-fits-all policy intervention that can be easily rolled-out across the country. Every area requires a bespoke programme of cultural activity that responds to local policy priorities, and this is best achieved when led by the people who know their area. We welcome the Government's stated intention to devolve more powers to local leaders in areas associated with ‘Pride in Place’ - a policy area in which the cultural sector has a demonstrable track. However, more responsibilities for local leaders and communities must come with a commensurate increase in resources and support.
1.2. Making small-scale and aggregated improvements over time. Investing in small-scale cultural programmes that facilitate people’s everyday creativity[x] can mitigate against some of the negative phenomena that ‘creative district’ or ‘creative city’ approaches sometimes bring, such as gentrification and social exclusion.[xi] Cultural organisations and practitioners will, however, need to be able to access funds in order to deliver this kind of activity; sector leaders tell us that the UK Government’s larger centralised funding pots (inc. the Levelling Up Fund) need to be adapted to ensure the cultural sector has access to revenue funding to deliver programmes - not just capital investment for infrastructure projects.
1.3. Bringing cultural activity closer to local people. By securing longer-term occupancies in vacant retail units and central locations, the cultural sector can develop sustainable studio/workshop and co-working spaces and deliver cultural programmes closer to where local people are. Just one example would be Theatre Absolute’s ‘Shop Front Theatre’ – initially set up in Coventry in 2009 as a pop-up space in an abandoned fish and chip shop – which has driven up footfall to a shopping area in decline, and has become so beloved by the local community that it is still going strong today.[xii] Local authorities should support cultural organisations to set up shop in high streets on a longer-term basis to make them a destination once again.[xiii]
1.4. Bringing high quality and accessible outdoor activity to wider audiences. It is obvious, but often overlooked, that public spaces and streets can play host to parades, local festivals and cultural events that bring communities together, create a sense of shared celebration and reach people who would not normally engage with formal cultural activity.[xiv] Chapeltown in Leeds proudly hosts the oldest West Indian carnival anywhere in the UK, enabling local communities to come together to participate in meaningful and memorable moments of intercultural dialogue and celebration.[xv]
Government can support places without established cultural infrastructure by:
2.1. Developing a mission-based programme of cultural investment to target “left behind” places. Our research into the impact of Covid-19 on the UK’s cultural sector demonstrates that when it comes to funding and support for culture - particularly in times of crisis - place matters.[xvi] We observed that place types other than Core Cities, those with higher levels of deprivation, and those with fewer Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) received less investment per head from the Cultural Recovery Fund (CRF). An analysis of Greater Manchester’s cultural ecosystem also reveals that existing cultural networks, infrastructure and ebullient political buy-in can result in higher levels of cultural investment. Whilst this reaffirms some of the benefits associated with agglomeration in creative clusters and micro clusters,[xvii] it also points to the potential for place-based disparities to be compounded without alternative investment models in place. It is important for decision makers across the UK to recognise that the persistent regional disparities that many “left behind” places experience means some areas will require additional support to harness the power of culture and level up access, opportunity, participation and the extrinsic values of arts, culture and the creative industries. We therefore recommend the UK Government adapt existing - or develop new - funding programmes to ensure that agglomeration and competition models are not the only tools in the box.
2.2. Seizing the opportunity that an emerging “localism” affords. Our research in collaboration with The Audience Agency demonstrates that audiences and participants have been less confident to travel to and engage with in-person cultural activity throughout the pandemic period.[xviii] Simultaneously, our ‘Culture in Crisis’ report reveals that cultural organisations and practitioners have responded to the increased demand for hyper-local cultural activity by making a concerted “pivot to people and purpose”; designing new cultural programmes specifically for local communities (including those who had been previously marginalised from cultural activity).[xix] In addition, changes to economy-wide working patterns[xx] and the emergence of new digital and hybrid cultural modes of consumption could see the traditional catchment areas of cultural organisations disrupted for some time to come. The UK Government should respond to these new phenomena by supporting arm’s-length bodies and local authorities with the resources they need to kickstart culture-led revivals in villages, towns and cities right across the UK.[xxi]
2.3. Taking an ecosystems approach to investing in culture and community assets. The interdependency of the cultural sector and the wider creative industries is now widely acknowledged; together, they contributed over £116 billion in GVA to the UK economy in 2019, and directly employed over 2 million people. Local authorities are increasingly recognising that the arts and cultural sector contributes to leisure, hospitality, and night-time economies in their areas, as well as wellbeing and quality of life. The UK Government should therefore see investment in the breadth of cultural programmes and civic infrastructure where culture takes place (including parks, libraries, museums, and public spaces) as a crucial part of developing thriving creative industries.
2.4. Making investment in culture a statutory requirement. With the right support and investment, local authorities have proven they can lead levelling up through culture.[xxii] However, severe cuts to local authority budgets have seen investment in arts and culture fall by £860m a year every year between 2009/10 and 2018/19 in England; the largest percentage cuts have been felt in regional villages and medium sized towns – exactly the type of places where the UK Government wants to level up.[xxiii] Placing the provision of culture on a statutory footing alongside other local services such as libraries (for example, through an amendment to the Libraries and Museums Act of 1964) could ensure citizens have access to local creative and cultural programmes in all parts of the country.
Creatives can contribute to local decision-making and planning of place by:
3.1. Participating in local forums and planning groups. Creative and cultural sector representatives on such platforms can facilitate deeper relationships between local creative and cultural stakeholders, decision makers, civil society, audiences and participants. Local and combined authorities without well-developed cultural networks could establish a ‘Culture Forum’ to begin building these relationships, to inform local cross-cutting policy priorities. Larger localities could look to Liverpool City Region’s “two network” strategy which includes a network for smaller cultural organisations and another for the larger. Local and combined authorities should also share learning across established networks such as the Local Government Association[xxiv] and the M10 network of Metro Mayors, some of whom have already made a commitment to do so, via the Creative Workforce Pledge.[xxv]
3.2. Addressing local problems in creative and innovative ways. The cultural sector attracts people who can think creatively when faced with a whole range of challenges. At a joint industry panel we hosted in partnership with the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre, a founder of a small community art gallery based in a creative micro-cluster explained how they’d been cut off from a nearby city by a leg of HS2 development. The gallery team are now leading a unique wayfinding project in partnership with local businesses and the planning office that will incorporate a street lighting system.[xxvi] The scheme will reconnect a burgeoning creative district with the city centre, make the streets safer for residents and workers, and draw public attention to an emerging community of creatives.
3.3. Encouraging local people into programmes of wider civic engagement. People who have a lived experience of the challenges a place faces can also have unique insights into potential solutions. Combining the local knowledge of citizens with the skills that creative practitioners have in processing and assimilating a range of ideas into powerful interventions, can lead to positive outcomes. A community arts organisation based in an area of chronic underinvestment close to a northern city told us that they’re now delivering what we believe to be the first arts-led Neighbourhood Plan in the country, using creative processes as tools for both communication and facilitation, and proactively supporting residents to make decisions about their area.[xxvii]
3.4. Facilitating local change through parallel planning processes. Local authorities are sidestepping the conventional bureaucracy often associated with town planning and cultural investment processes[xxviii] to shift entrenched power dynamics, encourage participation and facilitate a sense of belonging - all underlying factors in successful placemaking. Granby Four Streets community land trust in Liverpool[xxix] and Park Fiction’s urban park project in Hamburg[xxx] are just two examples of projects that were not public policy-led or corporate development programmes, but instead instigated and ultimately delivered by residents and cultural practitioners who live and work in the areas.
4.1. Privatising Public Sector Broadcasters (PSBs) could see investment in regional production fall. PSBs are critical to the UK’s audio-visual content production ecology, as well as to the wider creative economy.[xxxi] Operating in the context of severe market failures, PSBs are the largest commissioners of regionally made content in the UK[xxxii], ensuring that investment continues to be made outside London thanks to quotas for both independently produced and regional-made production.[xxxiii] Regional broadcasting hubs have had a catalytic impact on the cultural sector – and thereby the wider community - in several areas across the UK. The BBC’s role in the development of MediaCityUK in Salford[xxxiv], Channel 4’s HQ move to Leeds[xxxv] and UKRI’s investment in Strength in Place Fund in Cardiff[xxxvi] all demonstrate how investment in regional broadcasting can support wider regeneration. By 2019-20, 47% of Channel 4’s spending on UK original content came from producers in the nations and regions;[xxxvii] ITV provided a GVA of £538m in the regions and devolved nations;[xxxviii] and 50% of the BBC’s direct GVA was generated outside of London.[xxxix]
4.2. Pathways into broadcasting and the cultural sector could be closed to regional talent. PSBs play a crucial role in supporting the regional workforce to get in - and get on - in the creative industries. Unlike commercial operations, PSBs have a statutory obligation to monitor and report on changing workforce demographics, helping the sector as well as arm’s-length bodies to target investment and opportunities where they are most needed. Given the persistent place-based and structural inequalities we see in the creative and cultural sectors in terms of class[xl], gender[xli] and ethnicity[xlii], PSBs are key to making careers in the creative industries possible for everyone, wherever they live.
4.3. Content of considerable social value may struggle to get commissioned. PSBs based in the regions regularly invest in content that would otherwise not be commissioned by commercial producers, including minority language, children’s, and regional news production.[xliii] PSB’s continue to be the most trusted source of news media, including through the tumultuous pandemic period.[xliv] PSBs further responded to the pandemic by offering citizens support and access to content consistent with its commitment to broadcasting in the public interest, including sharing less commercially viable educational (Bitesize Daily[xlv]), arts and cultural (Culture in Quarantine[xlvi]) and religious (Sunday Morning Stories[xlvii]) content.
4.4. The public value of universality could be undermined. The Covid-19 crisis has emphasised the importance of accessible-to-all services and content regardless of geography or means. Importantly, PSBs provide both high-quality linear and user-friendly on-demand services, which goes some way to mitigating against the digital divide we see in the UK.[xlviii]
5.1. Use existing programmes as a catalyst to reorientate local cultural policy towards coordinated and sustained interventions. Evidence shows that the European Capital of Culture (ECOC) programme can have positive short-term social impacts[xlix] as well as benefit the tourism sector[l] for host cities. Research also suggests the most transformative impacts of the UK City of Culture programme come when hosting places make significant longer-term investments in infrastructure, rather than seeing the year as a single stand-alone moment. However, there are risks to the City of Culture model too. Critics suggest that these programmes can accelerate broader gentrification trends; that the programmes offer only short-term boosts to cultural engagement in demographics that are already highly engaged; and that they ultimately fail to make the most of the opportunities they provide. Perhaps the key lessons to be learnt from existing schemes is that cultural mega events are not successful on their own as short-term tactics for local development; they must be used as part of longer-term strategies. Much of their benefit comes from providing an opportunity to create (whether in bidding or delivery) a shared policy objective and strategy that allows places to coordinate cultural, social and economic policies.[li]
5.2. Build co-commissioning and community engagement activities into existing schemes. Cultural festivals do appear to have more tangible impacts in terms of an increasing a sense of pride in place. With community and co-creation based cultural commissioning, these activities can also engage new audiences in cultural activity during the festival year. Mega events and flagship cultural programmes can change local and media perceptions of place if there is clear legacy planning.
5.3. Consult with local stakeholders in advance to ensure existing funding mechanisms and workforce pipelines are not inadvertently disrupted. One-off festivals can unintentionally take up the “funding bandwidth” of an area and see open call opportunities soaked up and funnelled through temporary festival structures. In addition, some sector representatives report their organisations losing long-standing staff to a festival, which leaves them under-resourced at a time when they should be engaging with the increase in activity that the festival brings.[lii]
About this submission
This submission draws together research and contributions from the Centre for Cultural Value, the policy team at Culture Commons, and wider research. It also draws on recent findings from the ‘Culture in Crisis’ report[liii], a 15-month AHRC funded study into the impact of Covid-19 on the cultural sector, led by the Centre in partnership with The Audience Agency and the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre.
Centre for Cultural Value
The Centre for Cultural Value is a national research centre based at the University of Leeds. The Centre works alongside cultural practitioners and organisations, academics, funders, and policymakers to: summarise existing evidence to make research more accessible; support the cultural sector to develop skills in research, evaluation, and reflective practice; convene discussion around questions of cultural value; shape policy development; offer funding for research partnerships.
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