The Government has announced that 70 museums, public libraries and other cultural venues in regions outside of London will receive £58.8 million from its Cultural Development Fund.
The fund, which totals more than £200 million, launched in 2019 and comprises three separate streams: the Cultural Development Fund, the Libraries Improvement Fund, and the Museum Estate and Development Fund. It is designed to improve access to culture, revitalise communities and upgrade buildings and digital infrastructure, according to the government.
The investment aligns with culture secretary Lucy Frazer’s plans to boost “natural clusters” and cultural “hotspots” outside of London and the South East, which she revealed at the opening of the 2023 Creative Coalition Festival earlier this month. Frazer says that the investment “will help to level up access to arts and culture for everyone, no matter where they live”. She adds that it will also allow arts organisations to “upgrade their venues and create new projects”, which will have a knock on effect on boosting tourism, supporting local businesses and driving local economic growth.
To access funding, local authorities and organisations took part in a bidding process, for which they pitched specific cultural projects for the money to be invested in. For this round of funding, £32.4 million has gone to eight Cultural Development Fund projects, £4.9 million to 27 projects as part of the Libraries Improvement Fund and £21.4 million has gone to 36 museums through the Museum Estate and Development Fund.
Arts Council England (ACE) will deliver the funds on behalf of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. ACE chief executive Darren Henley says that investing in creativity and culture is “a catalyst for improving well-being and raising aspirations, reinvigorating pride in communities, regenerating high streets and local economies, and bringing people together.”
Basildon Borough Council in Essex is one of the successful bidders and will receive £4.4 million to go towards turning empty properties in the town centre into a creative facility for “screen and immersive digital industries”. Another is the Grade II* listed Guildhall building in St Matthew’s Quarter in Walsall, West Midlands, which will receive £3.7 million to be redeveloped as part of a three-year Cultural Activity Programme.
Bradford, which was named UK City of Culture for 2025, will receive £4.9 million from the pot to redevelop the Kala Sangam intercultural arts centre and other resources which will help to establish its network of local arts hubs. In a bid to improve facilities and accessibility and enable it to better support local education, health and wellbeing projects, the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent will receive £5 million to build a wrap-around extension.
The government revealed that the third portion of the Cultural Development Fund will see £2.7 million allocated to the North West of England, £3 million to the South West, £3.5 million to the South East, £4.5 million to the East of England, £5 million to Yorkshire and the Humber, £5 million to the East Midlands, and £8.7 million to the West Midlands.
London will also receive £1.8 million through the Libraries Improvement Fund and the Museum Estate and Development Fund.
The new investment package follows last year’s announcement of a new national portfolio of funding for museums, libraries and other art organisations for 2023 to 2026. The new funding portfolio includes 276 institutions that were not previously part of the programme, meaning that a total of 990 institutions (previously 714) will share £446 million each year.
These additions mean that many long-standing institution beneficiaries have seen a cut to their annual funding.
Donmar Warehouse Theatre’s founding artistic director Sir Sam Mendes has criticised the ACE funding programme, which will result in grant reductions to his organisation’s funding, saying that it will “wreak long-lasting havoc” on the creative industry.
Hampstead Theatre also fell victim to funding cuts, along with Oldham Coliseum theatre in Manchester, which confirmed that a redundancy process will begin affecting all staff.
While Creative UK welcomes the investment, its chief executive Caroline Norbury explains that the strategy needs to be long-term and “more than a one-off quick fix”. She adds that “there are still several high-profile deserving cultural institutions and places left out in the cold”.
Norbury says that this round of funding is “a strong step” but that Creative UK would like to see policymakers “go further and reinvest in the AHRC Creative Clusters programme”, as well as making “a long-term commitment to continue to invest in arts and culture across all regions”.
Banner Image: Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent. Credit: Nicholas Billington on Shutterstock