What Next?

Maurice Davies, 01.05.2013
Campaigning for culture
What Next could be the next big thing in speaking up for culture. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry; it’s very new and still unformed.

But it’s beginning to attract attention. Around 650 people gathered in London on Monday to hear more about it. People who work in museums, theatres, dance, visual arts and music came together with artists, politicians, and arts managers.

They came from a range of commercial, publicly funded and voluntary organisations and all were united by a desire to do something to speak up for the value of culture and a sense of dissatisfaction with the attitude of the UK government.

What Next describes itself as a movement, not a campaign. It started simply enough when, a few months ago, a group of cultural sector leaders started to meet once a week to explore the future of government support.

According to David Lan, artistic director of the Young Vic Theatre, their starting point was to think long-term about what might come next for culture. Once public spending starts to grow again, will funding for culture grow, or will it be cut for decades?

The scope of discussion soon grew and now, Lan says, the aim is that we should act together to “enhance the national conversation about the value of art and culture, and make connections between all the different things we do which may seem separate, but have the same intent: to enable people to achieve their potential”.

They invited others to join their meetings: politicians, community leaders, educationalists. The approach is spreading and now What Next groups are meeting in places as diverse as Cardiff, Coventry and Cambridge.

The biggest manifestation so far was this week’s London gathering. It was an impressive event, or series of events. People first attended one of twenty discussion groups all over central London and then moved to the full meeting at the Palace Theatre.

The key proposition was that the best way to promote the value of arts and culture is to mobilise the millions who engage with museums, theatres and the rest.

People suggested using audience databases to directly inform supporters about the benefits that arts and culture bring. Another idea was to build closer relationships with key stakeholders, such as head teachers, community leaders and local business people, and to ask them to speak up for culture to local MPs.

What Next, like the Museums Association’s Museums 2020 initiative, has a strong focus on social value: “Arts and culture enhance... the vibrancy of our cities, the identity of our rural communities, the future prospects of our children, the quality of our democracy, the sustainability of our environment, the employability of our workforce, the ability to make sense of our experiences and place in the world, and to empathise with others.”

To help you make the case for museums, take a look at some of the resources in the MA’s Love Museums section, and read about our Museums 2020 campaign to create a vision for the future of UK museums and their impact.