Environment, Food and Rural Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Rural Cultural Forum

1. The Approach of the Rural Communities Policy Unit:

1.1 Our dealings with the RCPU have all been very positive and we consider that they have also been very effective and supportive in their efforts to engage with rural communities. They have also done their best to try and ensure that all rural communities benefit in all areas.

1.2 The RCPU has also been very effective in engaging with other government departments, in particular, by providing an ongoing challenge with the Departments responsible for arts funding and cultural policy (DCMS) and Arts Council England). They have also been pro-active in promoting rural proofing measures within mainstream arts and cultural policy arenas.

1.3 In this context external reviews of rural proofing would be a help, particularly where there still seems to be a level of resistance or undue delay on the part of some statutory agencies (eg Arts Council England) in responding to grassroots rural community-articulated cultural issues and artistic needs.

1.4 In our view, there is still a very strong case to be made for the retaining and also strengthening of the role of an independent Rural Advocate.

2. Rural Grants and Funding:

2.1 The measures announced in the Rural Economy Growth Review should be effective in stimulating sustainable growth within the rural economy.

2.2 However, the Government with the support of DEFRA DCMS, DCLG, and BIS, etc., could also do more to embrace and deploy the concept of the Creative Rural Economy as an integral part of any future rural economic development strategy. Such a measure, if properly resourced and implemented, could potentially generate up to an additional1 £500 million pa in rural areas, thereby also enhancing the “creative rural” contribution to the national creative economy to one billion pounds pa, by 2018.

2.3 Reform of Pillar II of CAP, if handled imaginatively and with clearer time frame guidelines for implementation, etc., could have a measurable and long term beneficial impact on the rural economy.

3. Government Policy: a Focus on the Creative Rural Economy

3.1 In the context of the Government’s forthcoming Rural Policy Statement, we would like to see a commitment to the introduction of a five year pilot Rural Cultural Strategy development programme (2013—2018). The Rural Cultural Forum www.ruralculture.org.uk has been advocating for a national rural cultural strategy and related creative rural economy development initiatives since about 2006. DEFRA Rural Minister Richard Benyon and DCMS Arts Minister Ed Vaizey have recently given their support, in principle, for the idea.

3.2 However, this proposal should not be confused with the recent Government action (much welcomed) for the introduction of enhanced broadband and investment for digital e-commerce capacity for rural areas and businesses. New rural design creatives, rural-based digital art entrepreneurs, rural broadband media cultural content providers, and a wide range of other innovative social media-led rural cultural/arts/music media networking activities in rural areas, etc., are all part of the rapidly expanding Creative Rural Economy.

4. Achieving Fairness in Lottery Arts Funding Support for Rural Communities

4.1 Since 2005 the Rural Cultural Forum has organized several national conferences and published follow-up reports in support of its campaign for a national Rural Cultural Strategy. These include; Creative Rural England conference, held at Tate Britain, May 2005, which formally secured a national rural community mandate for a future Rural Cultural Strategy; CRE-’06, the first international Creative Rural Economy conference held at Lancaster University Sep. 2006. The conference report: Creative Rural Economies—an overview, published in May 2007; the Creative Rural Communities report July 2010 which was earlier launched at an All Party Group meeting in the House of Commons (sponsored by Tim Farron MP), and, finally, the follow-up Rural Cultural Strategy Independent Study report (ISR), published in March 2012. The above reports can be downloaded from the RCF’s website; www.ruralculture.org.uk

4.2 However the RCF and rural leaders remain very concerned that they continue to be denied their “cultural voice” and fair share of Lottery Arts funding, and that they are further disadvantaged by being excluded from mainstream arts and cultural policy decision making forums, which seem dominated by professionals with mainly urban arts and cultural backgrounds.

4.3 As further evidence of this bias they point to the almost exclusively urban focused rhetoric, and the end beneficiaries, of a wide range of recent major National Lottery Arts, Arts Council, and other Government sponsored culture-led regeneration initiatives. These have included the £19 million Urban Cultural Fund Arts Council England/Millennium Commission programme 2004 -06 (which deliberately excluded rural communities), the Liverpool European Capital of Culture 2008, UK City of Culture programmes 2013+ (which do not include rural communties); DECIBEL, the Arts Council England’s BME (Black, Minority, Ethnic) cultural diversity/minorities funding programmes 2007–12 (its seems that marginal upland rural cultural communities do not qualify). Also the major outlay of National Arts Lottery investment funds provided for the urban-regeneration focused Liverpool, Folkestone, and Manchester international Art Biennales. Since 2002, it is estimated that Arts Council and Lottery Arts fund contributions for urban communities, the urban creative industries, and arts-led urban civic regeneration projects total several billion pounds.

4.4 To put this in perspective, and not that long after the time when rural communities and the farming sector were still struggling to overcome the devastating effects of the 2001 Foot and Mouth epidemic, all that the Rural Cultural Forum was able to obtain from the Arts Council Arts Lottery fund during this same period, for promoting rural regeneration and creative rural economy initiatives, was £90,000.

5. Rural Communities Excluded From Cultural Olympiad and Other Arts Investment Programmes

5.1 More recently, the UK Legacy Trust’s 2012 Cultural Olympiad £12 million+ arts awards programme also turned out to be almost all urban focused. For example, a professionally well researched and designed Uplands rural community focused Olympic arts participation project: “Your Rural Neighbours” was rejected quite out-of-hand (in our view) in the early application stages by the Legacy UK Trust.

5.2 The project was backed by an impressive national Uplands rural arts coalition, involving all the UK’s hill farming/Uplands rural communities, the National Parks Authority, leading professional rural media, performing arts and rural artists groups, and the Rural Cultural Forum, etc. Despite the UK Legacy Trust’s promotional literature stating that they particularly wanted to include and fund hitherto “overlooked” or marginalized cultural groups, it seemed that Uplands rural communities did not qualify.

5.3 Similarly a major Arts Council England National Portfolio funding bid (NPO) sponsored by Rural Cultural Forum for the development of a three year (2012–2015) Rural Cultural Strategy and Creative Rural Economy R&D pilot project, and which was co-incidentally backed by the Arts Council’s national office—was also rejected by the Arts Council England NW Office in March 2011. Despite our having written several times formally asking Arts Council NW for a meeting to discuss the reasons why the bid was rejected, we have not yet received any response. This is not an uncommon experience.

6. “Evidence of an Overwhelming Urban Bias in Arts and Cultural Funding

6.1 To try and overcome some of these problems the RCF decided to commission an Independent Study Report (ISR) from John Holden (johnholden.info), who is a highly respected academic and researcher in the field of UK and International cultural policy and creative economy research. The findings of John Holden’s report were later endorsed by the Rural Cultural Strategy Working Group, which includes senior officials representing DEFRA, DCMS, and Arts Council England head office.

6.2 A summary of the report’s two main conclusions state that:

It is clear that there has been a strong and on-going tendency for arts and cultural policy and funding over the past ten-fifteen years to be overwhelmingly preoccupied with the discourse of urbanism and in primarily serving the needs of the urban creative industries and arts-led post-industrial urban regeneration projects.

The present situation is considered quite unfair and disadvantageous to rural communities with the result that the cultural needs, artistic aspirations and creative economic potentials of rural communities, rural creative businesses and artists are not being fully addressed or supported.

6.3 The report again underpins the RCF’s arguments for the establishment of a separate (ie National Arts Lottery funded) rural cultural funding initiative that would: (i) ensure a greater degree of fairness and equality of access to available arts and culture funding for rural communities; (ii) sustain the growth of the already significant rural community cultural capital and rural creative economy sectors; and (iii) encourage the professional urban arts, media and cultural sectors to do more to help all communities (urban and rural), and government, achieve the national policy goals of full economic recovery, rural regeneration, and environmental sustainability.

6.4 It also demonstrates how the Rural Cultural Strategy is vital to the future growth of the rural economy. That it is also needed in order to address both traditional policy concerns such as economic development, health and education, some of which have become particularly acute, and also to confront emergent issues that cut across traditional boundaries, such as the need to address creative solutions to current issues resulting from climate change and in promoting environmental sustainability in both urban and rural areas.

6.5 The need for such a strategy now is made all the more compelling by the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, and for the continuing growth of a creative rural economy sector that aims to provide more rural jobs, help “creatively” diversify the farming and agriculture sectors, and also generate more (cultural) tourism and employment opportunities in rural areas in the future. The RCS aims to achieve these goals by securing an adequate level of National Lottery Arts funding to support and promote the creative capacities and cultural capital of all rural communities, including the many professional artists, rural design SMEs and cultural entrepreneurs, and crafts makers now living and working in rural areas.

6.6 The RCS could also help support a range of complementary policy priorities identified by ACE, DEFRA, BIS, DCMS, DECC, and DCLG. In turn, the RCS could also benefit Departmental and NDPB agendas, by helping them to better integrate and deploy their respective policy initiatives for promoting economic recovery, world leadership in the arts and culture, the “rural” Big Society, community self-help initiatives, and also environmental sustainability.

7. Where will the funding for a Rural Cultural Strategy come from?

7.1 The funding for a Rural Cultural strategy need not make any call upon scarce central Government funding or resources, or from existing Departmental agency budgets. Following the precedents set by various Arts Council urban projects and strategic “multi-million pound” National Arts Lottery funded urban regeneration initiatives, we suggest that the Rural Cultural Strategy could be funded, and certainly at an equivalent level of investment, using available National Arts Lottery funding sources.

7.2 We also understand that it is likely that the level of National Arts Lottery funds available to the Arts Council,2 will be increased next year (2013) following the end of the National Lottery Arts funds obligations pledged in support of the major 2012 Olympics/Paralympics arts programmes.

7.3 Finally, we would to like ask the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs MPs Committee for their endorsement and support in progressing the proposed Rural Cultural Strategy. In return for a commitment for the adoption of a five year Rural Cultural Strategy programme:

“Creative rural communities would pledge to increase their contributions to the national creative economy to upwards of £1 billion p.a. by 2018”

“It’s a fairer share, and a ‘hand up’ ..rather than a ‘hand out’ that rural communities are now asking the National Lottery Arts and mainstream arts and cultural funding sector for.”

“We also challenge urban communities and our urban arts and cultural sector partners to work with us to achieve society’s goals for environmental sustainability and full economic recovery.”

Rural Cultural Forum Chairman, Michael Hart (March 2010)

September 2012

1 Independent studies; English Rural Crafts – “today and tomorrow” report, Professor Collins, 2004; “The economic contribution of Glastonbury Festival”, Mendip DC, 2008; the “Creative Rural Economies report”, RCF 2007, “Rural Innovation” report, NESTA 2007, etc., all confirm that the rural sector is already contributing somewhere in the region of £500 million p.a. to the national creative economy. And that this has mostly all been achieved, so far, without any measurable National Lottery arts investment or strategic cultural funding support.

2 In addition to its main operational and core funding from Government, Arts Council England curently has control of the disbursement of around an additional £380 million national Arts Lottery funds p.a.

Prepared 23rd July 2013