TAITMAIL A shaft of light in the city gloom

Not to get too carried away by convenient cliché, there’s a new dawn breaking over our cities.

Unfortunately it comes with a very prosaic name, Cultural City Compacts, but it makes the dream of re-assembling our crumbling country on a bedrock of art and culture a lot more real.

It’s a result of the year-long independent enquiry commissioned by the arts councils of England, Wales and Scotland, Belfast City Council, Core Cities and Key Cities – between them those last two represent 30 cities from Cardiff to Newcastle, not including London.

London, as AI has reported (https://www.artsindustry.co.uk/feature/1452-local-soft-power-mayor-khan-sets-national-culture-blueprint, https://www.artsindustry.co.uk/news/1450-london-s-culture-zones-named, has already led the way with Justine Simons’s sweeping cultural strategy, 15 years in the making and now being rolled out by Mayor Sadiq Khan at break-neck speed. This London Culture for All plan added a new component with the creation of a public/private trust to acquire property and turn it into 1,000 affordable studio spaces in five years.

All that is on the brink of going national.

These Cultural City Compacts, the report says, will draw the resources of culture, business, education and local leaders to embed the arts and culture in civic life. And the key point is that it should be with financial support from national government – could it? "I'm happy to confirm government will support the enquiry's key recommendation to create Cultural Compacts” said the culture secretary, Jeremy Wright. “Local people know their towns and cities best. By bringing people together to work in partnership, I hope the culture and creativity that makes our communities unique can continue to flourish". When the Brexit shitstorm has finally passed and we're back to something like normal, his feet are going to have to be held to the fire until he translates that “support” in to cash.

But this is a pragmatic report from an enquiry chaired by an accountant, with a lot more to say. Next week AI will carry a feature with more detail about the enquiry, but it tells cultural organisations to share expertise, infrastructure, even investment; it wants Corporate Social Venture Funds to which local businesses contribute to support creative social enterprises; it calls for some nuanced tax relief for smaller arts organisations; it wants a portfolio of cultural property assets; it wants apprenticeship rules loosened to creative talent a proper start.

Its authors have been reading AI, I’m pleased to say, because one of the things the enquiry identifies as a neon-lit opportunity is  to revive our  dying high streets, you read it here first https://www.artsindustry.co.uk/taitmail/1466-taitmail-let-s-have-the-high-street-of-culture-for-every-year.

But the report of the Cultural Cities Enquiry, whose subtitle is “Enriching UK cities through smart investment in culture”, emphasises that there is no time to lose. While our cultural sector is growing at an economic speed of light, 57% gross value added a year, public investment is going the other way – 11% down between 2011 and 2017, largely because of a 19% drop in local authority cash. And while larger organisations have been able to compensate to an extent by getting sponsorships, private sector funding and finding earning streams, the small organisations that are the backbone of local cultural life are finding those channels effectively closed to them.

“Given the huge potential of culture to drive growth in our cities” the report says, “we need to make sure that all our cities and communities can benefit from cultural investment, and that we are investing in the R&D end of our cultural economy.”

But as my colleague Patrick Kelly says today https://www.artsindustry.co.uk/feature/1511-talk-of-the-town-hall-council-of-despair, the management of this can’t be left to government that can only see as far as the next general election. The scheme that comes out of this must be run by a permanent independent body made up of no more than a dozen members representing the instigators of this enquiry. The Cultural Capital Agency hasa good ring to it, but make its national funding ring-fenced, and make this dawn into day now.

You can find the report here https://www.corecities.com/sites/default/files/field/attachment/Cultural%20Cities%20Enquiry%20%5Bweb%5D.pdf

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