Editorial | Bold delivery needed for new ACE strategy

Simon Stephens, 01.02.2020
Arts Council England (ACE) unveiled its new 10-year strategy, which has the slightly underwhelming title of Let’s Create, just as Museums Journal went to press, so there will be more analysis of the document in our next issue. 

The introduction by the organisation’s chair, Nicholas Serota, begins with a tribute to the power of We’re Here Because We’re Here, a public artwork created by artist Jeremy Deller and National Theatre director Rufus Norris. Serota praises the boldness of the vision, the creativity of the participants, the digital aspect and the dissolving of barriers between artists and audiences.

The project was remarkable and it is great to have an inspirational example at the start of the ACE strategy to remind us about the power of art to engage and excite a broad audience. But for museums and galleries, the strategy also needs to work on a more basic level and respond to their everyday challenges. 

These include everything from managing volunteers and maintaining often crumbling buildings to retaining and recruiting staff and running learning and engagement programmes, and a whole lot more besides. For many museums, particularly local authority venues, all this is having to be done with what feels like ever-diminishing public funding.

The arts council’s strategy highlights many of the wider challenges that the sector faces, such as inequality of wealth and opportunity, social isolation, mental ill-health and the climate crisis. And it identifies some of the areas that need to change, including involving wider audiences, engaging people digitally and truly reflecting England’s diversity.

It is hard to disagree with all this, but how these areas are tackled will be crucial. We will know more in April when ACE publishes its first delivery plan for the strategy. But what is already clear is that radical action will be needed to address some of the more deep-seated challenges, such as making arts institutions more diverse and reaching those that are excluded from the arts by a system that tends to favour those who already enjoy culture. 

Some of this is about accepting a wider definition of what culture is, and ACE seems to be moving in this direction already. Other problems are more structural and this is where the real challenges lie.

Simon Stephens, editor, Museums Journal 

simon@museumsassociation.org | @simonastephens