13th Report - Lessons from the First World War Centenary Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The arts and commemorations

1.The centenary demonstrated widespread public support for, and pride in, the UK’s arts-based approach to commemorations. While the UK had already had notable success with the Cultural Olympiad, the level of public interest in commissions such as Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red demonstrate that the appetite for these activities continues to grow. The arts are a core part of our national life. It is vital that, as the commemorations draw to a close, the momentum and learning generated are not lost. It is our intention that this report serves as a resource for future commemorations, but this is not a substitute for thorough recording and dissemination of the learnings from the UK’s approach to marking the First World War centenary. In its response to this report, the DCMS should outline the steps that they are taking to document and preserve our position as an international leader in large, participatory cultural programmes. (Paragraph 15)

Connecting to younger people

2.Research undertaken by British Future prior to the centenary found low levels of public awareness of the events of the First World War. While young people were engaged in the commemorations through a range of projects, this did not necessarily translate back into the curriculum. The DCMS should work with the Department for Education to ensure that the resources generated by the commemorations, including the value of taking an arts-based approach to remembrance and historical interpretation are made available to primary and secondary school teachers. (Paragraph 23)

3.The evidence that we received demonstrates that building intergenerational connections was a valuable by-product of the centenary’s focus on young people. As part of their evaluations of the First World War commemorations, the DCMS and National Heritage Lottery Fund should examine how intergenerational work can play a larger role in future commemorations. (Paragraph 24)

A cross-nation approach

4.We commend the “four nation” approach to the centenary, which was exceptionally successful. The DCMS should evaluate the measures that enabled this success, whether they were undertaken on a UK-wide or devolved basis, and assess whether they can be replicated in future UK-wide arts and heritage initiatives. (Paragraph 38)

5.Our inquiry found that local networks were generally complementary to national work, and effective in bringing organisations together. The National Heritage Lottery Fund and the Imperial War Museums should consider how they can further nurture the networks that they have created, including facilitating dialogue between organisations working in the same localities. (Paragraph 39)

Reaching new audiences

6.The centenary commemorations reached new audiences, and enabled the public to be more exposed to hidden or less well-known histories. But this approach could have been more systematic and better embedded in all strands of activity. Diversity should be included as an explicit criterion in any future commemorations and reported on fully in the forthcoming DCMS evaluation of the First World War centenary. The DCMS, National Lottery Heritage Fund and Imperial War Museums should consider how the resources generated by projects exploring diverse participation in the First World War can continue to be disseminated to the widest possible audience and set out their approach in the response to this report. (Paragraph 44)

Lasting connections

7.Although our inquiry confirmed that the popularity of the centenary commemorations was greater than expected, we are concerned that little attention seems to have been given at the outset to what the legacy of the commemorations would be. The enduring connections that have developed seem to have been more by accident than by design. The DCMS is the governmental lead on civil society and should take the opportunity in future commemorations to proactively inspire, nurture and measure social capital. (Paragraph 51)

8.The DCMS should work in partnership with the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to assess what measures can be taken to maintain the links made between academic historians and local heritage groups during the centenary, and to foster future engagement in new academic findings and interpretations. (Paragraph 52)

The role of the DCMS

9.There was widespread agreement that the DCMS was the right governmental home for the commemorations. But a longer lead-in time may have helped to ensure that preparations and co-ordination was fully in place between local and national commemorations, and with the UK’s international counterparts. While the relatively limited oversight from the DCMS carries inherent risks, the innovation that this generated from artists demonstrates that these are risks worth taking The DCMS should take a similar approach to future ‘national moments’ including the Commonwealth Games and the Festival of Britain, but planning needs to commence immediately to avoid repeating the short lead-in time given to 14–18 NOW. (Paragraph 59)

10.The centenary commemorations were the first time that a ‘Prime Minister’s Special Representative’ role was used in this way. The fact that this structure was replicated in other UK nations suggests that it was effective. The DCMS should formally include the role of the Special Representative in their evaluation of the centenary and share learnings with other Departments across Whitehall. (Paragraph 60)

11.We were pleased to hear that the DCMS will be funding the preservation of the digital legacy generated by the commemorations. However, it is unfortunate that the need for this was not foreseen at the start of the commemorations. Given that the DCMS leads on digital policy, a strategic approach to preserving digital assets should form part of initial planning of any future government-funded arts or heritage programmes. (Paragraph 61)

Published: 16 July 2019