Making the case – independents and levelling up

Valuable feedback from our Membership Insight Group supported AIM’s response to a recent DCMS Select Committee inquiry on Levelling Up.

“I believe the real strength of levelling-up is in the personal energy it can unleash to allow people to better control their own destinies.” AIM Chair, Andrew Lovett OBE.

How can culture reanimate our public spaces and shopping streets?

Culture can play a significant role in the renaissance of an area, either directly through the repurposing of dormant sites or as a broader catalyst to connect people with opportunity. The presence of a museum on a high street not only adds to the cultural value of a place and its sense of civic identity but can deliver a measurable multiplier effect to the local economy, as AIM’s most recent report on the economic impact of the independents highlighted. Culture on the high street can also create a feeling of public ownership, positioning it as a civic space where people come to socialise, engage in cultural opportunities without necessarily needing to spend money.

“Our artistic community runs a number of events to enliven the townscape and to lengthen the dwell time in the town, such as in the early evening.”

“(Our) recent museum-led local history festival took place across six venues, allowing audiences to engage with displays in unexpected places.”

How can creatives contribute to local decision-making and planning of place?

AIM believes creatives can support decision-making and planning across three contexts:

  • The strategic – helping embed culture in social and economic progress and ensure placemaking initiatives draw on existing heritage
    and community knowledge
  • The institutional – ‘anchor’ institutions can provide jobs, bring in visitors and support skills development, as well as provide civic and community space
  • The local – museum collections tell the story of an areas past and its potential, and can act as a nexus for creative energy to e.g. improve high streets and town centres.

“(We need to) ensure that creatives are invited as members of LCEP or similar planning forum.”

“(We have) a cultural consortium. The museum is one of the centres of memory and resource for the history of the town.”

How can the Government support places without established artistic infrastructure to take full advantage of the opportunities that the levelling up agenda provides?

Supporting nationally active umbrella organisations offers Government a route to aid the delivery of the levelling up agenda without having to generate new infrastructure. Organisations like AIM exist to connect museums with each other, and ensure they are aware and take advantage of all the opportunities available to them.

Strengthening the mandate of public funding bodies to support culture around the country is another obvious route. Government can further leverage networks too – areas with limited infrastructure could benefit from the institutions and expertise in areas with higher infrastructure through e.g., partnerships such as mergers, consortia, and combined trusts. Using regional or national organisations to
provide specialist support such as curatorial and conservation expertise could leverage economies of scale on issues such as storage provision, and clusters of cultural organisations could come together to provide tourist offers.

Part of this would involve funders re-envisioning the purposes and procedures for accessing funding, for example supporting more back-of-house work which enables increased public-facing activity.

“Close collaboration with local council-run and other independent museums (sharing exhibitions, coordinating collection development policies) could be improved with more shared services, e.g., marketing, design.”

“Museums (can act) as a hub for self-help heritage forum at community level for smaller local history/arts/cultural organisations”

“We are at the start of a collaborative journey (so) it has taken an inordinate amount of time to find the right person, contact details, set up meetings etc. We would really like to see a central online system – something like “Tinder for Arts and Culture” – swipe right if you’re interested in working with (or funding) this organisation, artist, can respond to this proposal etc.”

Whilst 90% of AIM’s current museum membership is located outside the capital, many London based members may share this member’s
“concern over perception that London is ‘ok’ and that those of us in deprived London areas might be left behind.”

Those organisations that do enjoy significant public funding, including the DCMS-sponsored museums, should be challenged to maximise their regional and national roles and to support the cultural ecosystem around them. It is, however, important that areas without an established artistic infrastructure are not dictated to by more powerful national organisations, and to recognise where there may be a grassroots creative infrastructure below the radar of public agencies.

A supportive operating environment in which independent museums can thrive is also essential – people need to have money in their pockets to visit local culture; museums need a consistent and enabling tax and business rates regime; support for historic buildings needs to be maintained and re-used; and our education system must support creativity and the humanities.

“Successful community engagement depends to a great extent on other immediate needs being met to enable people to have sufficient resources to prioritise culture.”

“Continuity of funding on the ground is always the only way to make investment, ensuring teams of skilled creative practitioners are embedded in communities/areas for at least 3 years at a time.”

“Encouraging cross sector working across local authority boundaries. (e.g., a library working with an independent heritage site and across borders with environmental groups – makes sense for Zero Carbon creative initiatives . . .”

How should Government build on existing schemes, such as the UK City of Culture, to level up funding for arts and culture?

Project streamlining or the simplification of application processes could have considerable impact on future initiatives. A reduced focus
on competition would be helpful for smaller organisations, who often lose out as they do not have the resources to dedicate to a complex application. And competition challenges resources right across the country, yet only one region benefits. Careful consideration of the
focal points (city or region) for initiatives would be valuable too, alongside an understanding that organisations based in remote regions face considerable challenges comparative to those in more urban areas yet can deliver significant local impact.

“We, voluntary organisations cannot always compete evenly with larger funded organisations.”

“More support for quality initiatives and innovation in remote and fragile areas, support which bears in mind the additional costs and travel time involved e.g., current Ideas Fund.” “The focus here could be on regions, rather than just cities. Cultural events could spread across different council areas under shared themes, like Olympic Cultural games.”

“The ACE Jubilee funding is a good model, allowing organisations to work together and with creatives to develop events with a community focus, without a cumbersome application process.”

We would be delighted to hear your view of the debate. Do tell us what you think, or let us know If you’d like to join colleagues in our members insight group at