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Arts Council investment in cultural projects is changing lives and inspiring communities across England

(Alamy)

4 min read

Over the past 10 years amazing new hubs of creativity and innovation have been springing up across England from Basildon to Boston, Wigan to Walsall, and Redbridge to Rotherham.

Although these towns might not at first appear to have much in common, each of them hosts an Arts Council England (ACE) Creative People and Places project. This ground-breaking programme brings together local people with professional artists, curators, producers and performers. They all share the common aim of changing lives for the better in their neighbourhoods through creativity and culture.

These projects are found in places where previously people might not have spent much of their spare time taking part in artistic activities. But over the last decade, Creative People and Places projects have inspired communities in ways that many of the people involved would have previously found unimaginable. Now, not only do residents take part in art, but they also take the lead in shaping and choosing the kind of creative activities that happen on their doorstep.   

We are creating happier, healthier, more fulfilled lives. Surely there can be no better reason to invest public money? 

As a National Lottery good causes distributor, it’s thanks to National Lottery players that the Arts Council has invested £108m in 39 Creative People and Places projects right across the country from Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria to Bridgwater in Somerset. Artists, performers and creatives of every kind have worked with communities to help them tell the stories of their places and to create art that people living nearby really want to experience. It has led to new theatre shows, international festivals, visual arts exhibitions and classical, rock, jazz, choral and opera performances. In short, creativity of all kinds has been allowed to blossom, bloom and put down roots. The quality of the work produced has been ambitious, excellent and awe-inspiring.    

Collaborations include Creative Black Country’s Desi Pubs, which told the stories of the West Midlands’ Asian pub landlords and landladies. Not only was this a hit in Dudley and Sandwell, but it was also exhibited at the prestigious Venice Architecture Biennale. Sunderland and South Tyneside’s The Cultural Spring won a host of accolades for The Great North Passion which combined a live BBC television drama with art installations across the North East. The people of St Helens worked with Turner Prize nominee Rory Pilgrim as part of madlove – an arts festival about mental health that took over a disused Argos in the town. And the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet were commissioned to bring performances of La Traviata to the heart of Luton and Swan Lake to the streets of Stoke-on-Trent.    

There are countless stories of people being inspired, helped and nurtured to discover their own creative talents. These projects open new doors onto fresh creative possibilities, enabling those who take part see the opportunities in their lives in new ways. Some now run their own workshops in art and fashion design, others have become woodcarvers, producers or aerial performance teachers. One even went on to sing in the Coronation Concert for King Charles. Without that initial spark, they might otherwise never have thought that a job in the creative and cultural industries was for them.   

The success, quality and impact of these projects is backed up by the figures. The 8,800 events put on by Creative People and Places projects have reached people who have previously been among those least likely to take part in creative and cultural activities. More than 200 partners and 25,000 volunteers have been involved. And people have visited and taken part in those creative and cultural experiences a grand total of 14 million times to date.    

Arts Council England’s continued investment in Creative People and Places reflects our commitment to making sure everyone can benefit from the dividends that creativity and culture pays out. Our investment offers people new chances, new choices, and new opportunities, bringing a renewed sense of pride in the place they call home. It achieves all of this through the creative excellence of the artists, performers, producers and curators who make it happen.

As one woman in Stoke-on-Trent joyfully told me as we watched an amazing large-scale theatrical performance unfold before us: “You know, things like this didn’t used to happen round here”. We are creating happier, healthier, more fulfilled lives. Surely there can be no better reason to invest public money? 

 

Darren Henley, chief executive of Arts Council England

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