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In her inaugural lecture as chair of the RSA, Vikki Heywood has called on the arts to take on a deeper, broader, more ambitious engagement with society.

Challenging artists to become more engaged, she said that “instead of trying to persuade the government and the public to protect spending on the Arts, we should be examining how arts and heritage organisations can enable places not only to survive but to prosper in these difficult times”.

For arts organisations to make this offer and make it credibly she said they will need to examine their own ways of working. “They will in essence need to see themselves as commissioned by the places, in which they are based, or the communities they serve, a concept which, if taken seriously, is complex and challenging.”

She called on artists to provide vital input into local leadership and act as catalysts for new ways of thinking to benefit society. This will require developing a much better understanding of their locality, its people, its needs, its culture and its challenges.

She said, “as artists, if we are to be valued, we need to shed considerably more daylight on the role we play. And I would suggest that we are as much to blame as anyone for the fact that we’re not ‘seen’.”

“We are not on the boards of businesses, retail, or banks, we are not governors of schools, sitting on planning committees, local enterprise partnerships, regional planning committees, ‘we’ don’t stand as councillors, ‘we’ don’t stands as MPs, ‘we’ don’t become the Secretary of State for the Arts.”

Setting out her vision for the future of the arts in Britain, Vikki warned that currently there is absolutely no joined up thinking on a policy for the Arts as an industry or as a function fundamental to the cultural identity and a prosperous future for the UK.

Never before has so much attention been needed to articulate our true value, she said. Highlighting the requirement for a new language she argued that “claims made by arts organisations that they are catalysts for the development of our cultural identity are hollow unless they are manifested in genuine commitment for self-examination, financial prioritisation and heart felt rhetorical reorientation”.

Laying down a challenge to the industry she said, “Arts practice has changed – it can change again. It’s now time for a shift that is fundamental to the arts and its relationship to society”. As examples she called for the introduction of:

  • Further development in placed based commissioning - with artists acting as ‘place cataylsts’.

  • A GCSE in the Arts in order to develop young people’s cultural knowledge and practice across at least two art forms. It takes Michael Gove’s passion for ‘cultural literacy’ as necessary but not sufficient to develop young people’s cultural identities and capacities to the full.

  • Artists on boards of businesses, retail companies and banks, artists on planning committees, health boards and prisons

Notes to editors

  1. For more information contact RSA Head of Media Luke Robinson on 020 7451 6893 or

    07799 737 970 or

  2. Vikki was speaking to an audience in the Great Room of the RSA, 8 John Adam Street, London, WC2N 6EZ.

  3. Vikki Heywood was appointed as RSA Chair at the AGM in October 2012 having been an RSA Fellow for almost ten years. Previously, she was the Executive Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), a position from which she stepped down last year. Since leaving the RSC she has also taken on the chairmanship of Mountview Drama Academy and of the First World War Centenary Cultural Programme Board. Prior to her appointment at the RSC, Vikki was Joint Chief Executive of the Royal Court Theatre, the country's foremost theatre for the development of new writing. At both the RSC and the Royal Court she was responsible for their two multiple million pound capital projects which transformed two iconic theatre buildings in London and Stratford Upon Avon. She has been a board member of the Society of London Theatre, The London 2012 Cultural Olympiad and the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership and is a member of Warwick University Council. She was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Birmingham, becoming a Doctor of Letters in December 2009 and was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2012 for services to theatre.


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