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A thriving arts community boosts the local economy, says report

PUBLISHED: 00:01 15 September 2020

Powerful theatre provided by companies like Gecko and the New Wolsey Theatre help keep our towns healthy as well as boosting the economy   Photo: Tom Woollard

Powerful theatre provided by companies like Gecko and the New Wolsey Theatre help keep our towns healthy as well as boosting the economy Photo: Tom Woollard

© 2019 Tom Woollard

The importance of arts and culture to the health of our communities and the economy has been highlighted in a new Arts Council study which explores how culture helps support local economies by creating jobs, providing additional amenities for the public like bars and restaurants as well as reinvigorating town centres.

Investing in the future of Ipswich. An artist's impression of the New Wolsey's community arts pavilion on Civic Drive   Photo: WG+P architectsInvesting in the future of Ipswich. An artist's impression of the New Wolsey's community arts pavilion on Civic Drive Photo: WG+P architects

The new nationwide report, Arts and Place Shaping: Evidence Review, focuses on how the local arts industry benefits the wider community and could provide a boost to the economy as we exit lockdown. Among the areas studied was Ipswich, which has eight National Portfolio Organisations within its borders, including New Wolsey Theatre, DanceEast, Eastern Angles, Pacitti Company and the Spill Festival, Suffolk Libraries, Ipswich Museum and Gecko physical theatre company.

National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) are arts companies which are deemed to making work of national importance. Outside Ipswich, Britten-Arts at Snape, Museum of East Anglian Life and Aldeburgh’s HighTide Theatre Festival are also NPOs.

“In the last two years, up to February 2020, cultural organisations that form We Are Ipswich put on over 5,000 performances, attracted more than one million attendances, supported more than 250 jobs and generated more than £25 million for the local economy,” notes the data report.

“New Wolsey Theatre, DanceEast and Ipswich Museum, which are all regularly funded by the Arts Council, are all within a five-minute walk of Ipswich’s high streets, giving their audiences easy access to the town’s shops and facilities.

A thriving arts scene and high quality productions like the world premiere of The Little Prince, at DanceEast are vital to keep town centres healthy and helps forge a sense of communityPhoto: Chris NashA thriving arts scene and high quality productions like the world premiere of The Little Prince, at DanceEast are vital to keep town centres healthy and helps forge a sense of communityPhoto: Chris Nash

“Since opening the doors to the Jerwood DanceHouse, DanceEast has demonstrated the power of cultural institutions in regenerating places and communities, stimulating local pride and economic growth. Since 2009, DanceEast has commissioned 128 artists to create new work, presented 47 premieres, engaged over 232,000 young people with great dance and attracted audiences of 489,639 (averaging 87% capacity).”

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This engagement with the community is set to be developed further next year when Gecko’s new headquarters and arts development centre will open next door to the DanceHouse, Eastern Angles will expand their operation at the Sir John Mills Theatre when they take over the former Suffolk Records Office and the New Wolsey Theatre open their soon-to-be completed ‘Pavilion’ which will be dedicated to community and education use.

Dr Darren Henley, chief executive, Arts Council England said that four main factors emerged from the research which was commissioned last year: arts and culture support community cohesion, increase footfall in city centres, helps repurpose vacant buildings and creates good jobs.

“And with so many located near to the city’s high streets, they play an important role in driving footfall to local shops and services, as well as raising the profile of the town through their world-class artistic programmes.

“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.”

The report found that 75% of buildings used by Arts Council funded organisations are either on or within a five-minute walk of a high street, more than 300 cultural venues and buildings are located in unemployment hotspots, cultural organisations can help build civic pride and create an increased sense of belonging in communities, libraries, theatres or museums can play a key role in hosting events and offering unique experiences that attract visitors to high streets, arts and cultural organisations are helping fill the gap left by retailers as they move away from high streets, repurposing vacant properties left by retailers into cultural spaces and culture-led regeneration and investment can drive local economic growth and help create employment.

In conjunction with this new report the Arts Council are supporting a new four year country-wide cultural programme called the High Streets Heritage Action Zones scheme. The programme – run by Historic England, in partnership with National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Arts Council – invites artists, creatives and cultural organisations to transform our high streets and help people feel proud of where they live.

Further information can be found online at the Arts Council website www.artscouncil.org.uk


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