“Culture…is something that Britain already does well. What’s not to like?” – Gordon Seabright
Culture and Place in Britain is a very welcome report from Key Cities (who represent 27 of the UK’s cities) and Arts Council England. You wouldn’t think that any more evidence was needed that art and culture create healthier and happier places for people to live and work, but the report is a valuable resource for anyone trying to persuade national or local government to make use of the way culture enriches lives.
A study of 27 cities inevitably illustrates how diverse the cultural make-up of Britain is, yet a number of unifying themes emerge. As a starting point, it remains necessary to point to the wealth of evidence for the wider benefits of culture for society, the economy, education and health & wellbeing. Surely only the most blinkered still regard art and culture as luxuries?
It follows that regeneration without the incorporation of culture is doomed to fail because there won’t be a sense of pride (or even interest) in the places people live. And that culture needs to be rooted in the needs and experiences of communities; in other words, bringing working artists and makers into the places where people live is far more meaningful than plonking down a sculpture and calling it culture-led regeneration.
Culture will create a million new jobs this decade. It is a massively important driver of growth. It requires partnerships, so it causes people and organisations to come together. It fits the devolution agenda, with local decision making clearly more likely to win local affection and participation. And it’s something that Britain already does well. What’s not to like?
The report looks at cities all over Britain, but the lessons apply equally well in London. Collaboration between public authorities, the private sector and the arts community is absolutely essential to gain benefits like inclusive growth in disadvantaged areas, new opportunities and ambitions for young people, and a sense of pride in the places where people live. Clusters of arts activity are key, to get up a head of steam, and they grow from microclusters of creative industries. A wealth of case studies from cities who are passionate about their culture – Portsmouth, Norwich, Coventry and so on – is hugely relevant to areas like London’s Creative Enterprise Zones, some of which have well established arts communities but other of which are putting creativity at the centre of building new places where people will want to live and work.