Blog Post

The Creative People and Places Journey


Laura Dyer, Executive Director at Arts Council England, on how and why Creative People and Places came into being.

Great Art and Culture for Everyone is an ambitious mission but how achievable is it? You won’t be surprised to hear that this is a debate that the Arts Council had when we were setting our strategy back in 2010, a conversation we had internally and with the wider arts and culture sector.

It is aspirational and it is a long term ambition, but it is also something that we all felt we could sign up to, we could back, and work to achieve. What was the alternative? Good enough art for some? Mediocre art for the many? 

We believe that arts and culture have the power to be transformative, to reveal things about the human condition, to celebrate the joys in life and at other times to make us feel uncomfortable and challenged, to question the world around us. We want that experience to be available to everyone.  

Having set our stakes high, we turned our thoughts to what we could do - in our role as a funder, developer and advocate for the arts - to make that mission a reality. 

We know, both from experience and from the data we hold through our regular surveys, that there are significant parts of the population that don’t regularly engage with the arts. This is not a recent issue, it is certainly one I have been engaged with my whole working life in the arts. There have, of course, been extraordinary examples of work that have engaged people and transformed the way whole communities have taken part in the arts. But it has often been on quite a small scale, or for a short period.

What we were grappling with was how we could test a range of different approaches that could deliver lasting change. From this challenge Creative People and Places was born. We wanted this programme to be different from others. 

The first thing we did was secure a substantial budget, £37 million over the first three years and now a further £25m during 2015-18. We also had a long term 10 year vision; with this programme and its development becoming a key plank of how we achieve our 10 year strategy. 

We also designed the programme to ensure that new partnerships and collaborations were at its heart.  We said that every consortium had to include an arts or cultural organisation and a community group.  We said that local authorities could not be the lead applicant  but that we did welcome them as part of the consortium. We felt that these parameters were important. If we wanted to embed real change and different approaches it seemed to us that we could not just replicate previously tested models. Ask the same questions and you often get the same answers.

We were also clear that we see this programme as an action research programme. We want the Creative People and Places projects to test and try different approaches and really evaluate what works and what doesn’t, particularly, I would argue, the what doesn’t! We built in a research and peer learning programme from the beginning. It is true that we are quite demanding on the evidence and data gathering part of the programme but it seems critical that we understand the impact of what we are doing. 

So, we now have 21 places up and running. I think we would all acknowledge it’s been a learning curve, for all of us. The programmes have taken longer to set up and establish than we all anticipated and managing the expectations of our communities, artists and stakeholders has been challenging. We also have a lot to be really proud of. 

At the Arts Council we speak passionately about the tangible changes and strong impact we have all seen. Every member of our Executive Board has visited a Creative People and Places project, our Chair, Peter Bazalgette has visited a number of the places to see the work for himself, so we can truly speak about these projects from first-hand experience.

We know that there is still a lot to do, and that there is a real challenge in ensuring that the projects are sustainable, really say something to the communities where the work is taking place, and can spread the learning and approach to new areas across the country. 

I really enjoyed attending the Creative People and Places conference in June where we were able to share where we’ve got to now and look to the future. A future that still holds a lot of challenges but also real promise. Promise backed by a strong vision,  significant money and a very real commitment from all of us involved.