Sharon Heal, Issue 114/05, p4, 01.05.2014
Why we shouldn't set town against country
While everyone is scrambling for resources, it can be tempting to promote some geographical areas, or audiences, as more deserving than others.

Last month, the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on Arts Council England (ACE) funding heard from former ACE chair Liz Forgan. In her evidence, she claimed that cities are the “focus and engine” of arts renewal, the suggestion being that this is where the funding should be concentrated.

ACE’s latest contribution to the arts funding discussion, This England, also talks about “clustering investment in major urban centres”.

Arts funding can’t be equally divided between every man, woman and child in the country, but this emphasis on cities seems odd and a little divisive.

The core cities and their surrounding urban areas that ACE talks about are home to a third of the population of England. But that means the majority, two-thirds, live outside of them.

In This England, arts council chief executive Alan Davey says there should be “no boundaries for talent, no boundaries for ambition, no boundaries for what culture can do”.

It’s a laudable aim but one seemingly at odds with the strategy of concentrating capital investment in urban centres.

Rural communities face many challenges, from poor transport infrastructure to poverty and limited access to public services. They value and participate in arts activities as much as their urban counterparts, and museums and galleries often serve as indispensable community hubs.

ACE’s recent statement on communities in rural England says it will take “full account of the respective needs of rural and urban communities, so that people are not disadvantaged by where they live” (see our news analysis).

Perhaps it is this, rather than trying to justify its funding distribution, that ACE should be concentrating its efforts on.

Sharon Heal, editor, Museums Journal





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Jonathan Gammond
MA Member
Access & Interpretation Officer, Wrexham County Borough Museum
07.05.2014, 00:46
This is definitely an interesting debate. Having grown up in the countryside, the quid pro quo for not enjoying some of the benefits of contemporary urban living is that you don't have to endure the many drawbacks, which are only too apparent when you find you have to move to an urban area to find work.

Let's hope the ACE backs some rural heritage and art schemes that have their roots in rural areas, rural communities and their heritage and histories rather than what all too often is the case - urban (mis)interpretations of the countryside and its many varied communities.