Headlines: October 15th, 2010

Art and culture has helped to regenerate major cities and now is the time to apply this approach elsewhere. Collaborative working across boundaries will be the key to success.

New ways of working are needed to apply the lessons of regeneration to other places. This is the theme of a new report from Regional Cities East, the smaller cities partnership of Peterborough, Luton, Ipswich, Norwich, Colchester and Southend-on-Sea, working in collaboration with Arts Council England.

The report argues that art and culture can make a major contribution to returning the economy to sustainable growth, to improving community cohesion and helping citizens play an active role in their communities. But with scarce resources for the future, new ways of working are needed to sustain their contribution.

An important feature of the report’s recommendations is the creation of functional cultural areas. The areas would be defined by the distances people travel to work and the ways in which businesses cluster together. Re-drawing boundaries in this way would allow councils to form pooled cultural services teams and to engage in more joint commissioning.

Within these areas, councils, Arts Council England and the cultural sector should focus their investment on a small number of key assets, organisations and high impact interventions. Public money can be used to lever other sources of investment finance and philanthropy. Functional areas for culture should be factored into emerging plans for Local Enterprise Partnerships.

The recommendations are based on case studies including the firstsite project in Colchester, which is helping to attract £50 million to a run down area, the UK Centre for Carnival Arts in Luton, which unites people of different cultural backgrounds, and Citizen Power Peterborough, which is putting local citizens in control of their future.

Neil Darwin, director of Regional Cities East, said: “Arts and culture have a central role to play in smaller cities, where a high quality of life and intimate networks help creative industries to thrive. Our research shows how arts and culture is helping to attract inward investment, bring communities together and encourage people to re-engage with the democratic process. But we can only sustain these Big Society themes if we all think smarter about value for money.”