Rural Cultural Strategy

Dairy farmer and creative rural economy pioneer, Michael Eavis
Dairy farmer and creative rural economy pioneer, Michael Eavis

Cultural Efficacy – making the economic, social and environmental arguments

The Rural Cultural Strategy (i.e. Cultural Efficacy) campaign was initially developed to address the need for some equity in the levels of strategic funding available for arts and cultural-led regeneration initiatives in urban and rural areas, and to make the case for the relevant statutory and funding agencies to look again at the situation by presenting credible economic arguments and pointing out the creative potential and cultural capital inherent in rural communities, and documenting the already significant contribution to the national creative economy being made by rural communities, farmer creatives and the numerous artists and designers based in rural areas. It also about developing a mechanism by which rural communities and their partners in the arts can bring about quantifiable and sustainable economic regeneration and change for rural areas. However, as underlined in the conclusions to the Taylor Report (2008) it is important not to lose sight of the vital social and environmental regeneration priorities and potentials that also exist for rural communities. Cultural efficacy therefore also means delivering on tangible social and environmental, as well as, economic outcomes for rural areas.

Rural communities contribute an estimated £500 million p.a. to the Creative Economy 

Recent reports on rural innovation and creativity (Arts Council England 2004, RCF 2006, NESTA 2007) indicate that rural communities and artists in England and the United Kingdom are making a very significant contribution to the nation’s creative economy. This contribution is conservatively estimated to be around £500 million p.a., comparable in relative terms to that generated to the national economy by the urban creative industries and the urban arts and cultural sector.  This total is based on three sources:  the estimate of £300 – 350 million p.a. turn-over figure for the traditional rural crafts and heritage building trades, quoted in the Crafts in the English Countryside Report (Collins/Countryside Agency, 2004); on farmer entrepreneur Michael Eavis’ estimate of £100 million p.a. generated by the Glastonbury Festival; and on a 5% share of the DCMS estimate of £60 billion p.a. as a baseline figure for the likely contribution made by the professional arts, media and design sector to the national economy.  It is therefore a rather conservative estimate of the contribution made by the rural sector.

Precedents: culture-led regeneration in marginal urban and seaside economies

It is now generally accepted that the extraordinary growth of the urban creative industries and the success of culture-led urban regeneration programmes, including the Coalfields and SeaChange seaside towns regeneration programmes, benefited significantly from the pump-priming effect of Government strategic cultural investment initiatives such as the Urban Cultural Programme (£19.5 million 2004-2006, ACE/Millennium Commission), and the SeaChange programme (£45 million over three years, 2008 – 2011, DCMS/CABE).

Countering the perceived urban bias in current national cultural funding programmes

By way of contrast, the arts and culture-led rural regeneration programmes proposed by the RCF (during 2005 – 2009) on behalf of rural and farming communities, then still struggling to recover after the devastating effects of FMD, have received almost nothing.   Recent proposals for community-led arts and cultural rural regeneration initiatives have also failed to attract any support in the bidding rounds for the current UK City of Culture* Initiative (DCMS), or the Cultural Olympiad/Legacy Trust arts programme.   Added to this are the hundreds of millions of additional strategic arts and cultural funding which have gone to create ‘iconic’ new urban art museums and galleries such as Tate Modern, Walsall, BALTIC, URBIS, Turner Contemporary, The PUBLIC, and a plethora of international Contemporaray Art Biennales; Liverpool Biennale, Folkestone Triennale, and London Biennale. Most of these projects are justified on the basis that they support vital urban economic and social regeneration programmes for Britain’s post-industrial cities and regions.

* However we understand that a preliminary bid for a ‘Region of Rural Cultures’ has recently been taken up in the the SW region led by Cornwall County Council (link: European Regions Of Culture Campaign)

Re-thinking the rural cultural strategy in wider policy contexts

After consultation with senior officials and advisors at DCMS and the Commission for Rural Communities the aims of the Rural Cultural Strategy were refocused to take account of key Government policy agendas.  Restated, the Rural Cultural Strategy is committed to developing strong, healthy and sustainable rural communities (DEFRA/CRC), ‘growing’ the national Creative Economy (DCMS), creating new audiences and promoting wider access to great art for all (Arts Council England), and achieving economic and environmental sustainability (DEFRA).

Introduction of the Rural Cultural Strategy and achieving cultural entitlement and equity for rural communities would, we believe, translate, over time, to quantifiable economic, social and environmental gains and benefits.

Aims and objectives of the Rural Cultural Strategy

The main strategic aims and objectives of the rural cultural strategy are:

  • to promote cultural equity for rural communities, and ensure fairer provision of future arts funding and cultural investment for regeneration programmes in rural areas.
  • to encourage a wider role for the professional arts, media and design sector (urban and rural) in support of rural economic regeneration, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability initiatives in the countryside.
  • to develop a five year cultural investment strategy for rural communities that will sustain the social and economic benefits of arts and culture-led regeneration programmes in rural areas.
  • to work closely with DCMS, DEFRA, Arts Council England and the Commission for Rural Communities to ensure that future arts and culture-led rural regeneration initiatives address key Government policies promoting the creative economy (DCMS); access to great art for everyone (ACE); sustainable rural communities (CRC); and economic and environmental sustainability (DEFRA).

Rural Cultural Strategy proposed APG meeting at Westminster 10th February, 2010

The main elements of the proposed rural cultural strategy are contained in the Creative Rural Communities report (February 2010) which details the key rural economy and arts and cultural investment for rural regeneration (2011 – 2016) and, in support of these, seeks support from MPs and members of the House of Lords for a proposed Rural Cultural Strategy APG (PDF)