Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Creating our new capitals of culture

Culture is not – and should not – be the preserve of London and the south-east, writes Rosie Corrigan

The north of England is the place to be this summer. The Great Exhibition of the North, a vibrant celebration of the region, is taking place in Newcastle and Gateshead, the Liverpool Biennial is in full swing and there are some wonderful open air theatres popping up across Yorkshire. Also announced this summer is the news that Leeds and Greater Manchester are in the running to become the new home of Channel 4.

Perhaps policymakers are waking up to the idea that culture is as important for social infrastructure as trains, planes and automobiles are.

Not only does culture deliver social benefits and community pride, often challenging preconceptions about places, but it is also a key driver of economic prosperity. Arts and culture contributed around £1,672m to northern GVA in 2015. Liverpool’s stint as European capital of culture a decade ago generated £785.8m for the economy, and Hull’s year as city of culture in 2017 saw the creation of 800 new jobs and a contribution of £300m from tourism to the local economy.

Unfortunately, however, many places across the United Kingdom including the north continue to lose out on the support that they need to realise their potential. IPPR north analysis of planned arts funding by region, per capita paints a concerning picture of continued regional imbalance.

Whilst London will see £71 per head spent on arts between 2018 and 2022, the north will see just £27. In fact, a sum of almost £700m would be needed to bridge the funding divide between the north and London. Investment in arts and culture in the north is further impeded by the context of austerity and its impact on local authorities, where ever-increasing pressures on budgets has seen council investment in culture and arts programmes decrease by £48m in the last five years.

Given that arts and culture are a key driver of community pride and economic prosperity, it is clear that positive steps like the Great Exhibition of the North should not be considered in isolation, but as the beginning of a change after which arts and culture across the whole of the UK is prioritised and invested in. After all, the UK’s rich cultural heritage isn’t London centric. From David Hockney, to the Bronte sisters, to Barbara Hepworth and Brit Pop, the North has long contributed to the cultural identity of our nation.

Integrating culture into devolution deals, not as an add on or a ‘nice to have’, but as a key driver of prosperity, could be the answer to existing funding and perceptual imbalances.

One Newcastle city council cabinet member, Kim McGuinness, hit the nail on the head recently when she called for decisions about Arts Council spending to be devolved in order to ‘unlock the region’s cultural potential’. This proposal is relevant now more than ever, as we rethink the way that we support these sectors post-Brexit. As part of this thinking, we should take the opportunity to look at how all places, not just cities, can benefit too. Investment in arts and culture is not just about one-off festivals and events; it’s about schools, theatre groups, libraries and hospitals and these are places that local people are best placed to understand.

There is a country outside of London, made up of communities with so much to give, and to gain from investment in arts and culture. Regions, towns and cities across the UK all have their own rich cultural heritage, and those living in and amongst those communities are best placed to drive and deliver their cultural renaissance. The time has come for more national institutions, funding, and decision making processes to venture outside of the capital in order to see national benefits.

Read next: Brexit and the coming northern revolution

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Rosie Corrigan is media and campaigns manager at IPPR North and Scotland. She tweets @Rosie_Corrigan

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Photo: by Hi I’m Santi (Flickr: Newcastle Bridges) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Rosie Corrigan

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