How do we make the arts and cultural sector more resilient?

Moira Sinclair's picture

It’s always a challenge, taking on a new area of policy development, especially when you are taking over from someone with so much expertise in the field. As I step in my colleague Andrea Stark’s shoes, I am filled with admiration for her thinking and hard work to date, as well as a degree of trepidation.

But I’ve started, as I often do in these situations, by going back to basics. Looking at two of the Arts Council’s long term goals - ensuring that ‘the arts sector is sustainable, resilient and innovative’ and that ‘the arts leadership and workforce are diverse and highly skilled’ - I’ve started to think through why we set them back in 2010, and how we are working with the arts and cultural sector now to make the ambition a reality. To me, the two goals are inextricably connected through that word ‘resilient’.

A resilient arts and cultural sector is one that works collaboratively to produce innovative work, sustainable business models, and world class leaders. But let me start with three things that are a given. Firstly, many cultural organisations are well-managed, highly effective, entrepreneurial businesses. Secondly, there are many cultural leaders working in the public sphere who would give their counterparts in the private sector a fierce run for their money – they are smart, connected, highly motivational, are great at spotting opportunities and adept at operating in a highly complex world. Thirdly, the value and importance of public investment in the arts cannot be underestimated – any intervention that we make is not about undermining that principle, it is all about ensuring that we collectively work to make that public funding work as hard as it can so that it provides us with the space to take risks, to innovate, to make the best work available to as many people as possible.

The resilience of our sector runs like a connecting thread through all three of these. And the funds that we already have, with the additional funds that we are launching today to further develop the cultural sector’s leadership and fundraising skills, are equally linked.

We know that we need to recruit and retain talent in our sector if we are to see those smart leaders emerge, so our search for partners to deliver our Creative Employment Programme and the Developing resilient leadership programme are important parts of that. This is why we have put an emphasis on ensuring that both these programmes place diversity at their heart. Neil McGregor, the Director of the British Museum, reminded us recently at the World Cities Summit in London that a determined focus on the fostering of diversity brings with it richness and innovation, and, I’d argue, resilience as a result.

We also need to equip our leaders with the best intelligence and skills development that we can if they are to build audiences for their work, generate income, and demonstrate why culture is so important to this country.  It’s interesting to see how much the work supported through our Audience focus fund is beginning to link through to the all the strands of the Catalyst programme. For how can you fundraise successfully unless you know what benefit your audience derives from your work and you understand the new models that are emerging and how successful they might be?  And how might you make the most of your audience data in building those new models? Again, it’s all about resilience.

Although a bit daunted, I’m also really invigorated by this work. There is no doubt that the economic environment is really challenging – I know that not least from my non-executive roles in higher education and in social care. The more that the Arts Council, with me playing my part, can help to acknowledge and build on the success and resilience of the cultural sector, the better placed we will all be to come through this. Let me know how you think we are doing.

Posted by Moira Sinclair, Executive Director, London, Arts Council England on 29 October 2012

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