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From Latitude to sell-out panto, Suffolk arts scene helps boost UK economy

PUBLISHED: 05:46 17 April 2019 | UPDATED: 12:59 17 April 2019

The Boys Are Back In Town - Sinbad, one of the New Wolsey's  most successful rock'n'roll pantomimes Picture: ROBERT DAY

The Boys Are Back In Town - Sinbad, one of the New Wolsey's most successful rock'n'roll pantomimes Picture: ROBERT DAY

Robert Day

East Anglia was once known as ‘The Bread Basket of Britain’ today it could be re-named as ‘The Main Stage’ as a new report reveals that arts and culture provision has a greater impact on the UK economy than agriculture and Suffolk is shining a spotlight on the way ahead.

Latitude Gates Picture: MEGAN ALDOUSLatitude Gates Picture: MEGAN ALDOUS

Suffolk's contribution was led by major players like the Latitude Festival, the year round contribution of the New Wolsey Theatre - especially its three-month sell-out run of its acclaimed rock'n'roll panto, the Aldeburgh Festival and the Snape Proms, along with hundreds of smaller companies and events which combine to create a thriving cultural economy

The report, commissioned by The Arts Council, says it's not that agriculture has declined, it's that the arts sector is thriving. The report stated that the arts and culture sector now directly contributes £10.8 billion to the nation's economy whereas the net contribution from farming is now just under at £10.085 billion. When the wider cultural spend is included, which covers associated businesses like material suppliers for costumes, set construction, food suppliers for cafes and restaurants, hotels and car parking etc that cultural contribution rises to £23 billion.

The arts sector, which grew by £390 million in one year, contributes £2.8 billion a year to the Treasury in taxation, and productivity in the arts and culture industry between 2009 and 2016 was greater than that of the economy as a whole, with gross value added per worker at £62,000 for arts and culture, compared to £46,800 for the wider UK economy.

Richard Alston Dance Company supplied a weekend of dance to the music of Benjamin Britten hosted by Aldeburgh Music and DanceEastRichard Alston Dance Company supplied a weekend of dance to the music of Benjamin Britten hosted by Aldeburgh Music and DanceEast

Some of Suffolk's key National Portfolio Organisations (NPO) were meeting Arts Council officers yesterday, and were anxious to point out that one of the reasons that Suffolk continues to thrive as one of the UK's leading producing regions is because all the NPO's – companies with long-term Arts Council support for producing work of national significance – talk and work closely with one another. These include New Wolsey Theatre, The Benjamin Britten Foundation, DanceEast and StartEast. Sarah Holmes, chief executive of the New Wolsey, said that one of the strengths of all the organisations was that they created work for local audiences that then went out to other parts of the UK on tour and helped keep the wider cultural economy healthy.

Brendan Keaney, artistic director of DanceEast, said: “The arts form an important part of our future. As the High Street fights to meet its own challenges, the arts are helping to rebalance the economy, fuelling regeneration and ensuring that our towns and cities are wonderful places to live and Suffolk mixes a wonderful landscape, history and culture in a very special way.

“People are looking for experiences and that is what we provide. The DanceHouse, which is ten years old this year, was part of a £1 billion redevelopment of Ipswich Waterfront and it was a central part of the project, because even back then they recognised that the arts was a fundamental part of the future of our town centres.”

Adam Langstaff as Bosun Tommy and Lucy Wells as Jade in Sinbad, the New Wolsey's latest rock'n'roll pantomimeAdam Langstaff as Bosun Tommy and Lucy Wells as Jade in Sinbad, the New Wolsey's latest rock'n'roll pantomime

Sarah Holmes added: “There is no doubt about it, we are pumping the life blood into the towns and cities all over the country. We are very much a part of the economies of those places. As organisations we all buy our supplies locally, we employ locals and I am really thrilled because we are employing a new creative producer who left Ipswich nine years ago and now she has come back. The only reason she has come back is because this is a vital and thriving place. I think the impact we have on young people and families is important as well as there is a lot of grimness around and the arts provide a way to escape that and have celebratory moments about the positive things in life.”

Hedley Swain, area director, South East Arts Council, said that it was important to remember that work from East Anglia didn't just play locally or tour in the UK. Many productions and companies toured internationally. “The arts in this region are top notch. We are world leaders and that is something many people either forget or overlook. It's places like DanceEast which attracts an international audience and international dance companies. It makes work here and sends it out into the world.”

Rachel Tarkenter, for arts-support company StartEast, said that it was also important to recognise that it wasn't only the big companies like the New Wolsey and The Benjamin Britten Foundation who had a role to play but it was the hundreds of self-employed indivduals or small companies that all contributed to a vibrant cultural economy. “StartEast is all about building the cultural economy and building the general economy. Jobs are being created. We have had 40 new businesses start up in the last 18 months. We offer business advice and support to help these fledgling creative enterprises take off. We bring together the large organisations with the small freelancers and we encourage the sharing of knowledge and opportunities. The fact that there is this culture of sharing means that Suffolk and Norfolk is a great place to run a business as well as a great place to live.”

Dancers from Sally Marie's production of BEAUTiFUL,which was staged at DanceEast. Photo: Dominic FarlamDancers from Sally Marie's production of BEAUTiFUL,which was staged at DanceEast. Photo: Dominic Farlam

East Anglian Culture Statistics:

Culture accounts for an estimated 5,815 jobs in Norfolk and Suffolk. 45% of these are in Music and the Visual & Performing Arts, 39% in Crafts and 17% in Museums and Heritage. Just over a third of jobs (34%, 2000 jobs) are in Norwich and Ipswich.

Proportionately more people work in the cultural sector than regionally or nationally and the net change in employment during the recession indicates a surprisingly level of resilience. It expanded by a quarter (24.8%) compared to regional and national growth of 13.9% and 0.1% respectively.

There are an estimated 1,013 cultural businesses/organisations in Norfolk and Suffolk, equivalent to 1.8% of the total business base.

Norfolk and Suffolk attract some 5m overnight visitors annually. It is estimated that cultural tourism accounts for 165,000 of these visits and is worth around £13 million to the visitor economy.

The cultural and heritage sector contributes an estimated £83.6m to the East Anglian economy. Turnover in cultural and heritage businesses in Suffolk and Norfolk accounts for £206.2m.

At a regional level there were 1,500,000 visits/attendances to major arts and cultural organisations in the 2016-2017. This excludes heritage sites, visitor attractions, National Trust properties and small museums.

Source: New Anglia LEP Economic Strategy evidence base work 2018. Look Sideways East Evaluation, Audience Agency, April 2018. Culture Drives Growth, 2016, New Anglia Cultural Impact Analysis, Shared Intelligence, 2012.

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