Arts funding can pay dividends, LGA tells councils

7 Mar 13
Council investment in arts and culture can provide returns of £4 for every £1 spent, according to the Local Government Association.

By Vivienne Russell | 7 March 2013

Council investment in arts and culture can provide returns of £4 for every £1 spent, according to the Local Government Association.

An LGA examination of arts investment, published today, included examples of where such spending had borne fruit. It follows Newcastle City Council’s approval last night of its budget plans for the next three years, which will slash funding for arts and culture in the city, in the face of high-profile opposition.

According to the LGA study, the arts provide almost 1 million jobs and the UK’s 67,000 cultural businesses bring in £28bn to the economy every year.

The report cites several councils that are actively promoting their arts budget. They include Basingstoke, which launched and ran an arts festival last summer, generating up to £1.42m for the borough. Hertsmere Borough Council’s 1996 redevelopment of Elstree Studios in Borehamwood now nets the council £1.1m a year in rental income.

Flick Rea, chair of the LGA’s culture, tourism & sport committee, said there was ‘great potential’ to turn diminished arts budgets into local growth.

‘Investment in the arts can deliver an impressive rate of return. It’s not easy and requires a strategic approach to tying the arts to wider policy aims as well as clear and straightforward commissioning with arts organisations, but the rewards can be huge. Hopefully, by learning from each other, councils can make the most of them.’

She added that this kind of investment could become ‘near impossible’ if councils were to suffer further budget cuts.

Newcastle’s budget includes ending the £1.5m it gives in direct subsidies to external arts organisations by 2016. Instead, a £600,000-a-year Newcastle Culture Fund will be established to which organisations can apply for cash. The council will also halve the cash it gives Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums over the next three years and cease funding the Great North Museum.

The council’s arts cuts were protested by an array of Northeast-born musicians, writers and performers, including the singers Sting and Bryan Ferry and actors Robson Green and Jimmy Nail. In a letter to the Guardian, published in December, they called the plans ‘economically disastrous’ and said they would ‘decimate the cultural life of the city’.

Speaking earlier this week as plans for the Newcastle Culture Fund were finalised, council leader Nick Forbes said: ‘The value of arts and culture to Newcastle has never been in doubt; what has been in doubt is the funding to support them.’

He added that the fund would offer security to arts organisations as well as giving donors an opportunity to contribute.


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