There are almost as many museum and arts centre cafes in England as there are Pret A Manger outlets in the UK, according to a new report from Arts Council England (ACE).
Research into the cultural infrastructure funded by the arts council found that England’s National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) together have about 500 cafes, compared to 530 Pret A Mangers in the UK.
ACE says its NPOs have about 400 bars – more than half the number of Wetherspoons pubs in England – and 200 restaurants, 1.5 times the UK’s number of Wagamama branches.
The report says 22% of buildings used by its NPOs, sector support organisations (SSOs) or music education hubs (MEHs) have a café, bar or bookshop, and that 35% have public toilet or education facilities.
ACE says the statistics demonstrate how the buildings it funds offer facilities to the public beyond their core cultural activities. It says “in some cases these facilities fall in rural areas and therefore provide amenities to an otherwise sparsely provided-for area”.
The research shows “the value of cultural organisations to our high streets, signalling the important role these spaces will play in reanimating local economies as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic”, says ACE.
The funder says that a Banksy exhibition in Bristol Museum in 2009 was one of the top 10 most-visited exhibitions in the world that year, bringing over £10m into the local economy.
It adds that of the more than a million people who visited University of Cambridge Museums between April 2019 and March 2020, about half (48%) combined their visit with dinner in a local restaurant, and 31% with a local shopping trip.
The report says that about two thirds (63%) of museum buildings used by NPOs, SSOs and MEHs are within a five-minute walk or 500m of a high street, and that 18% of museum buildings are actually on high streets.
A third (34%) of all English residential addresses are within a 15-minute walk of buildings used by ACE-funded organisations, and a similar proportion of the English population (36%) is within a “reasonable walking/cycling distance” to a cultural building used by an ACE-funded organisation.
The researchers add that a third of the buildings used by organisations ACE funds are in the top 20% most deprived areas in England.
The research was based on survey responses from cultural organisations and data provided by Ordnance Survey and Landmark Information Group.
Benefits of culture to communities
A separate report commissioned by ACE says there is growing evidence of the “positive impact of arts and culture on places and the people who live in them”.
It says culture can build bridges between divided communities, develop local pride and identity, and encourage people to engage with civic life. Other benefits include supporting the rehabilitation of offenders and improving public health.
The evidence review, by Wavehill, refers to research from the University of Kent which found that “arts participation and attendance were among the strongest predictors of charitable giving and volunteering”.
It also highlights bait, a project from Museums Northumberland and Northumberland County Council where artists supported the refugee community to create work and curate a free exhibition. Participants reported that through the initiative they increased their wellbeing, developed new skills, and made connections in their local community.
The report also says that culture can support economic growth by being a catalyst for regeneration, driving footfall and the visitor economy, and attracting clusters of creative businesses.
“There is recognition that creative people rather than corporations are increasingly the drivers of economic growth and, as a result, cities should concentrate on the amenities and atmosphere that will attract them,” it says.
Darren Henley, ACE’s chief executive, said: “An investment in culture is an investment in our high streets. Theatres, music venues, museums and libraries are the beating hearts of their communities. They’re central to the social fabric and civic pride of towns across England.
“As well as events and performances for audiences of all ages, they provide a raft of local amenities from bars to bookshops, helping to bring our high streets alive, providing jobs and boosting the economy.”