THE BLOG

Arts and Culture in the Regions - Why It's Not All Doom and Gloom

23/07/2014 16:49 BST | Updated 22/09/2014 10:59 BST

Sitting at my desk in Manchester and considering the North of England, which is the area I cover, the view of arts and culture seems far more positive than painted in Laura Maw's recent Huffington Post blog. In fact, the North is home to some of England's most exciting and entrepreneurial arts and cultural organisations, continuing to be ambitious and to operate on a national and international playing field despite the current austerity climate, and this richness is embodied in the National portfolio here.

Laura's blog - 'Arts Council Funding 2014 Will Damage Local Arts Venues' - mentions a number of organisations that aren't being funded within the Arts Council's National portfolio in the current round but omits to mention our new investment in exciting companies, like Dance United in Yorkshire and Juice Festival in the North East, both of which create opportunities for young people in their own communities.

In fact, it's disappointing that Laura's blog didn't acknowledge the great art that is happening in cities and smaller towns across the North. There are world class clusters of arts organisations in Liverpool and Manchester, in Leeds and in Newcastle/Gateshead - with companies such as the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Northern Ballet and Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. Our investment of £5.5 million will help Hull's arts organisations and museums prepare for its year as City of Culture in 2017. Durham had the vision to host Lumiere - now the foremost light festival in England - which attracted an audience of 175,000 in 2013. Many other towns have arts and cultural organisations playing a central role in the community and contributing to the local economy - Brewery Arts in Kendal, Queen's Hall Arts Centre in Hexham, CAST in Doncaster, Junction in Goole and The Maltings in Berwick upon Tweed to name just a few. The only specialist children's theatre venue north of London is being built by Theatre Hullabaloo in Darlington, Eden Arts in Penrith brings the arts into small rural communities in one of the most sparsely populated rural districts in the country and youth theatre organisations including Action Transport in Ellesmere Port, The Ashton Group in Barrow in Furness and Burnley Youth Theatre give opportunity to talented young people. I could go on - all of these organisations have received investment as part of the National portfolio in the North from 2015-18 - as have 193 organisations in total.

Of course it can be tough when we reduce or remove funding from organisations but often that is not the end of a resourceful organisation and we often offer them project funding. We know from our experience three years ago, when a number of former regularly funded organisations did not join our National portfolio, that there are other opportunities to continue to be supported through the Arts Council. We have continued to invest in the activity of a number of those organisations through our other funding streams, and indeed some of those organisations - like Castlefield Gallery and Third Angel here in the North - have been successful in their application to join the National portfolio this time round. And by opening up a competitive process once every few years we provide an opportunity for exciting new organisations to develop.

Of course we could use more money - we had far more applicants to our National portfolio than we could afford to support. Yes, there is more to do in terms of the balance of the Arts Council's investment and yes, progress is slow (we take the view we won't damage highly performing organisations by crudely cutting their funds to shift elsewhere) - but it is purposeful and targeted. Overall investment outside London has actually increased in this National portfolio round, and for the next three years we will build on the current trend of 60% of income from Treasury and 70% of National Lottery income being invested outside London.

The National portfolio is far from the only story of how we invest in arts and culture. Alongside National portfolio funding we have new targeted schemes for specific areas to retain talent or build culture in communities. Our Strategic touring programme for example has seen South Tyneside based Customs House tour its theatre and visual arts project, Follow the Herring, to 14 east coast venues from Scotland to the South coast, including venues in Musselburgh, Hartlepool and Grimsby. With a grant of £1.5million from our Creative people and places scheme, the Heart of Glass project in St Helens is using Rugby League and glass - two strong cultural identities of the town - as the focal points to create new arts experiences for local communities.

This is what I see when I consider the North - many, many artists, creative leaders and museums professionals doing excellent work and having a positive impact on their audiences, participants and wider communities. Of course it's right to note those who will no longer be supported through our National portfolio - but it must also be right to celebrate the work of the many more who will.