Arts key to towns’ futures - ACE report

Growing numbers of the public believe culture encourages people to move to particular towns, a survey for Arts Council England.

The survey, carried out by Wavehill Social and Economic Research, shows that 44% of those who remain in an area and 43% who moved to one cite arts and culture as an important factor in their decision – regardless of the job they do.

Main mage shows Piece Hall, Halifax, the sprawling 18th-century cloth hall that now houses exhibitions, shops, bars and restaurants.

Researching in Birmingham, Halifax, Hastings, Redruth, Southampton and Stoke-on-Trent, the survey found that 65% think arts and culture are good for well-being, and 36% think they are “essential to life”.  “People who attend a wide range of arts and cultural events are more satisfied with their lives than those who do not” the report says, adding that almost half think attending arts and cultural events helps them feel part of a community.

And crucially, arts organisations are filling high street gaps as traditional retail outlets close.

Southampton's new Studio 144 theatre, visual arts and film centre

“These figures demonstrate that people value arts and culture and that the opportunity to visit a theatre, listen to music or borrow a book from a local library is as important a factor in their choice of where to live as the availability of good schools” said ACE chair Sir Nicholas Serota. “The report shows that public investment in the arts is helping to bring people together, promoting wellbeing, and sustaining towns and cities through the dramatic changes happening on high streets. 

“By supporting our cultural sector we create happier, more vibrant communities where people are proud to live and work.”

The clearest recent example of the positive impact of art and culture is Hull, for which being City of Culture in 2017 boosted its economy, with £300m generated by tourism industry but also instilling in local people a renewed pride in Hull’s history and confidence in its future.

Hull’s experience has been mirrored by that of smaller towns across the country, including a wide range of market, coastal and post-industrial towns. Since 2012, the Arts Council has invested £53m in Creative People and Places, a programme designed to bring cultural events to areas with low levels of arts engagement, with a further £17.5m announced earlier this month. So far, the scheme has supported projects in 21 areas across England including Sunderland, St Helens, Barking and Luton.

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