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For many years – going right back to my time running IPPR – I have tried to encourage a more grown up and rigorous conversation about arts and cultural policy. It’s not that there hasn’t been good work in this area, valuable research, important policy initiatives, passionate debates but yet, added together, it hasn’t added up to a discourse worthy of the importance of arts and creativity to our nation and our lives. 

Large and powerful swathes of Whitehall have continued to treat the sector as peripheral, confusing and slightly flaky while the sector itself has been slow in developing a case that would stand up next to arguments for other, more obviously essential, forms of public investment.   

But in recent years, especially as austerity has bitten, there has been a tangible change. A number of bodies – for example, NESTA, Arts Council England, The Creative Industries Council, What Next? – have contributed to a more thoughtful, evidence-based and realistic debate. 

Building on this it was great to see the positive response to the excellent Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value which was published on Tuesday. The Commission report is comprehensive, authoritative and forthright.  It has clearly benefitted from the chairing of the RSA’s own Vikki Heywood. The Warwick team have also crafted a balanced document which makes the case for arts and culture to be taken more seriously as a strategic resource but also challenges the sector itself in key areas like impact and diversity. 

All of which fits very well with an initiative we have been developing with support from Arts Council England. The ‘arts and culture contract’ echoes the Warwick Commission in urging a more ambitious approach to arts and culture and also in laying an equal responsibility on Government and the cultural and creative sector to reach for this ambition. Seriousness, ambition and reciprocity are the themes framing  a number of broad ‘asks’ and ‘offers’ (although some offers are part ask and some asks part offer). 

In terms of content we claim little or no originality. Our task has been to gather together existing ideas, especially what we knew was likely to emerge from the Warwick Commission, and start to talk to some of the key bodies working in the sector about lending their support to the initiative. 

Today, through this blog post, we are putting out a first iteration of the compact to get some initial response. Then on March 11th, here at the RSA, we will be holding an event in collaboration with Arts Council England, The Creative Industries Federation, The British Council and What Next? to discuss a fuller version. 

If the response is good we will then encourage campaigners – especially local What Next groups – to use and adapt the contract as the basis for making sure arts and culture features in national and local debates leading up to the general election. 

The bigger goal – which lies many steps ahead - is for an incoming Government and key art and cultural agencies to sign the contract in the summer thus providing a basis for a more ambitious relationship and strategy to run across the term of the next administration. 

So, here in its first draft headline form, is the contract. Please do tell us what you think. 

A draft ‘contract’ between government and the arts & cultural sector

 The ‘ask’ 

  • Government to produce a comprehensive national strategy for the creative and cultural industries
  • A cross Whitehall review of the contribution arts and culture makes to broader public services goals
  • A new expectation placed on schools to guarantee arts and cultural engagement by all pupils
  • A comprehensive approach to skills and talent in the creative and cultural industries
  • A push to place arts and culture at the heart of local place making and regeneration strategies
  • As part of a broad commitment to digital enterprise, backing for a new digital cultural offer bringing together all publicly subsidised cultural assets and mapping local arts and cultural resources
  • Commitment to a new national and city-level global cultural diplomacy strategy
  • A commitment to sustain and expand the role of tax breaks in fostering the production of world-class content, IP and export revenues

The ‘offer’

  • A commitment to work with Government to apply a comprehensive and robust evidence and reporting framework for all arts and cultural activities supported by public investment
  • Recipients of public funding to commit to a step change in the work produced for diverse audiences and to create more opportunities for diverse talent across the publicly funded sector
  • A commitment to a measurable increase in the alternative income generation by arts and cultural organisations
  • A commitment to develop a unified, coherent and more equitable approach to recruitment and training in the arts and cultural sector
  • With  a particular focus on the use of pupil premium, NPOs, major partner museums, music education hubs and bridge organisations to combine forces to offer high-quality, relevant and affordable arts and cultural experiences to schools
  • A renewed commitment from publicly funded arts and cultural organisations to explore new forms of partnership and collaboration including with the commercial and community sector.>
  • What Next? to work with partners across the cultural and creative industries to frame a public contract exploring how the cultural and creative ecosystem can enhance the arts and cultural offer, and encourage new forms of cultural and civic expression across the whole country


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