Arts Council England has announced that County Durham will be one of 15 priority places in the North where it intends to develop new opportunities for investment, as part of the publication of its three-year Delivery Plan for 2021 – 2024.
The plan sets out a detailed roadmap to implement the vision of its strategy Let’s Create. This states that by 2030 England will be a country in which the creativity of each individual is valued and given the chance to flourish, and where everyone has access to a remarkable range of high-quality cultural experiences. The Delivery Plan highlights where there are opportunities for investment, collaboration, and progress, and County Durham is among the 54 places across England identified as a priority place.
The Arts Council recognises County Durham’s distinctive cultural heritage and Durham County Council’s impressive track record of support and ambition for culture – Lumiere festival, for example, is known throughout the world.
UK City of Culture 2025 bid
That ambition has recently been given an extra boost through its bid to be a county-wide UK City of Culture 2025, backed by major commitment from Durham University. Nevertheless, access to culture is limited and unequally spread and there is real potential to develop creative opportunities in towns and villages across the county, including in former mining communities and rural and coastal areas. The Culture Durham Partnership has evolved into a strong voice for the cultural sector and an effective way of increasing opportunity for communities and visitors and cultural organisations of all kinds and sizes.
Cllr Elizabeth Scott, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for economy and partnerships, which includes responsibility for arts and culture, said: “We very much support Arts Council England’s bold vision for the transformative power of culture and its aim for every individual to have access to high quality cultural experiences.
“In County Durham, we share this vision, along with the belief that arts and culture are crucial to economic growth, the levelling up agenda, and enhancing the vibrancy of our towns and villages. These are all key factors driving County Durham’s bid to be UK City of Culture 2025.
“We are looking forward to working with Arts Council England to achieve these ambitions and realise the great potential that exists in communities across the county.”
Investing in culture
The publication of the Delivery Plan follows the Government’s unprecedented £1.96 billion Culture Recovery Fund, administered by the Arts Council and other bodies. Driven by the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, with the backing of Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak, the Culture Recovery Fund is the biggest one-off investment in culture from the Government in history, providing a vital lifeline to save our cultural sector and help organisations prepare for reopening.
Let’s Create was written just before the pandemic, but the vision still holds true and if anything is even more critical now. Creativity and culture can, and should, play a part in helping level up the country.
Priority places recognises the need for cultural investment, and it will give more people the opportunity to enjoy high-quality cultural experiences in their communities and neighbourhoods. The places have been chosen through a set of criteria based on a review of current public investment and opportunities to engage with creative and cultural activity. Each of the priority places are ambitious to drive positive change through culture and the Arts Council will work closely with locations to develop new opportunities for investment, both from the Arts Council and other partners.
Big cultural ambitions
Jane Tarr, director, North, Arts Council England, said: “I am thrilled to announce that County Durham is among our 15 priority places across the North. The launch of our Delivery Plan, which sets out how we’ll implement our new 10-year strategy Let’s Create, and the announcement of our priority places will see us working closely with partners across County Durham to ensure that creativity and culture can play a key role in levelling up across the North.
“The Government’s Culture Recovery Fund has provided a lifeline to arts and cultural organisations during the pandemic. It is important that we now continue to invest in the cultural sector to ensure everyone across the country can access art and culture no matter where they live. The launch of our Delivery Plan and announcement of a set of priority places affirms our commitment to this.
“County Durham is a region with some big cultural ambitions. The county is already home to some fantastic cultural events, including the Durham Book Festival and the light festival Lumiere. I look forward to working with the local authority and the sector to ensure this excellent cultural offer can be enjoyed and experienced by more people across the county.”
A country-wide commitment
In the last decade, the Arts Council has significantly shifted its investment outside of London. The aim in Let’s Create is to increase focus on specific places underserved in the past. Priority places are just one of the ways in which the Arts Council is committed to levelling up by strengthening cultural and creativity opportunities in a targeted way. Investment will increase in a range of other locations through the Arts Council’s own programmes such as Creative People & Places (budget for 2021-22 £23 million), the new Place Partnership fund (budget for 2021-22 £7 million), and the Government funding streams that the Arts Council supports: UK City of Culture (the City of Coventry has received nearly £21 million for 2021), and the Stronger Towns Fund (£1.6 billion fund from 2019 to 2026).
Nurturing dynamic partnerships
Darren Henley, chief executive, Arts Council England, says “Artists, arts organisations, museums and libraries have found creative new ways to serve their audiences and communities since the start of the pandemic. Our new Delivery Plan shows how we’ll work with them to build on that spirit of imagination and innovation as our society reopens. It’s particularly exciting to be focusing on our 54 priority places over the coming years, as part of the Arts Council’s commitment to play its part in delivering on the government’s programme of levelling up. We’re looking forward to nurturing dynamic new partnerships with local people and organisations in each of these locations.”