Arts and culture not luxuries for the few

The facilities inside this building in Morpeth include the Chantry Bagpipe Museum.
The facilities inside this building in Morpeth include the Chantry Bagpipe Museum.

The following opinion piece is by Jane Tarr, Arts Council England’s north director, in relation to the announcement earlier this week that a total of £4,760,976 is being invested in Northumberland over four years from April 2018 in Arts Council national portfolio organisations.

‘The Arts Council has a long and proud history of supporting arts and culture in Northumberland and we’re delighted to be substantially increasing our level of support in the county.

The Woodhorn Museum near Ashington.

The Woodhorn Museum near Ashington.

As the national development agency for arts and culture, it’s our job to look after the country’s most precious cultural assets and make sure as many people as possible can enjoy them and be inspired.

This week, we announced details of how we will be investing a significant proportion of our funds from 2018-2022, especially in the national portfolio – the collection of arts and culture organisations that form the backbone of our investment and receive regular funding.

Which is why, when announcing how we’ll be investing much of our money over the next few years, one of our top priorities is to give more support to projects right across the country, in smaller towns and rural areas as well as in major cities like London, Manchester and Newcastle. And our investment to national portfolio organisations in Northumberland is set to double.

Everyone deserves the opportunity to enrich their life through art no matter where they live. People living in rural areas deserve access to arts and culture just as much as those living in towns and cities.

Jane Tarr, the Arts Council's north director.

Jane Tarr, the Arts Council's north director.

So we’ve significantly increased our investment in Northumberland, giving particular support to the county’s rich variety of museums.

Museums introduce people to new worlds, new ideas, and new futures, and it is with the future in mind that the Arts Council continues to work in close partnership with local authorities to ensure museums maintain their vibrant presence in our communities.

This week, we announced three new museums organisations in Northumberland will join the national portfolio from next year.

Hexham-based Arts&Heritage work with museums and heritage bodies across the North, and nationally, to introduce new ways of bringing museum and heritage collections alive through collaborations with contemporary artists.

The two directors, Judith King and Timandra Nichols, have been pioneers in their field, collaborating with national institutions English Heritage and the National Trust, as well as small rural museums.

Our new investment will enable them to undertake more projects and reach more people.

The Association for Cultural Enterprises, also based in Hexham, works with museums across the country to help them improve their commercial activities, such as merchandise and museum shops, and thus increase their ability to generate income – an increasing necessity in recent times.

And Woodhorn Charitable Trust manages four specialist museums across Northumberland with deep connections to the community, such as the Chantry Bagpipe Museum in Morpeth.

It has emerged as a real cultural leader in the county over the past four years, including running a very successful Creative People and Places programme called bait, which works with communities to create new cultural opportunities.

That link between history, place and contemporary arts inspires the work of November Club, another portfolio organisation, in creating theatre and performance for heritage sites across the county, which has seen members perform on the streets of Berwick-upon-Tweed, and from a horse-drawn wagon in local villages.

It’s not all about museums though. The Queen’s Hall Arts Centre in Hexham and the Maltings Arts Centre in Berwick continue the theme of making art available to people close to home – as does Highlights Rural Touring that works with volunteer promoters across the county to take theatre, dance and music to village halls right across Northumberland.

One of our priorities is to enable artists to train, live and make a career in the North and we are very pleased to continue to support Bloodaxe Books who – from their Hexham base – are one of the leading poetry publishers in the country and part of a strong cohort of literature organisations in the North, giving a platform to voices from this part of the world and elsewhere in print and live performance.

I’m delighted that the level of Arts Council investment to Northumberland has increased; it’s a testament to the ambition and excellence of cultural organisations based in the county.

Arts and culture are not luxuries for the few, they are for all of us. This is your money, from Government and the National Lottery, and we want to spend it so that everyone in Northumberland has the opportunity to experience, enjoy and be inspired by art and culture.’