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Let’s Create: Our Response to Arts Council England’s new 10-year strategy

Spektrix Conference 2019

Arts Council England (ACE), the largest single funder of the arts in the UK, has just published its new 10-year strategy, Let’s Create, and it’s definitely not business as usual.

As Sector Strategy Lead at Spektrix, it’s my job to ensure that we support the organisations we work with to tackle the big-picture challenges and opportunities we face as a sector and thrive in a changing world. A new and extremely ambitious plan from ACE definitely counts as both a challenge and an opportunity, and I thought it was important to respond with some initial thoughts on how Spektrix can partner with the sector in response to this ambitious plan. 

The outcomes ACE is looking for centre around everyday people and our communities in a way that is very different from what has come before. This strategy also has a lot more to say about how creativity and culture is made and promoted than we’ve seen in the past. Without doubt, the deliberate choice to leave the word art out of it entirely in favour of culture and creativity is bold and controversial (the social media debate is already well underway)! The strategy is incredibly ambitious and I’m sure England (and to some degree the rest of the UK) will be talking about the practical, artistic and philosophical ramifications in the days and years to come. 

At Spektrix we believe that engaging in live arts (we love the word, for what it’s worth) and entertainment events is vital to a high quality of life and the health of our communities. Our mission is to enable the organisations that present these events to engage and deepen relationships with the broadest range of audiences. We are deeply committed to the success of the sector as a whole, knowing that the most powerful transformation comes about through a sector that is interconnected and developing through partnership. From this point of view we see a lot of value in the new strategy, and we look forward to collaborating with arts organisations across the country, and with ACE itself, to meet the clear challenge this new plan is laying down for all of us.

There is a lot to consider in the strategy itself and we haven’t yet seen exactly how ACE will implement it; we’re expecting more detailed delivery plans over the months ahead. Nevertheless we wanted to highlight a few areas where, on an initial reading, we are excited to partner with the sector as these ambitious plans develop. 

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below, or join the conversation @Spektrix.

 

Ambition & Quality

“The public deserve the best in return for their investment, so the Arts Council is committed to the pursuit of the highest quality in everything we do. We believe in the value of training and skills, and we will use our investment to support organisations to develop talent and improve quality – across all their creative work and processes, and in the way in which they run their organisations.” (Let’s Create, Part 7)

We are committed to supporting the organisations we work with and the sector at large in building on the impressive work and ambition already on display.

Every day, we work with leaders of box office, fundraising and marketing teams who tirelessly support the production of great art through organisations ranging from vast national concert halls to intimate regional theatres. The innovation, drive and ambition they show for their artforms and their audiences is creativity in its own right, and we couldn't be happier that ACE is calling out the importance of investment in both the processes which create art, and the processes that drive connections with audiences, supporters and communities. 

We stand ready to partner in this investment.

We also know - from our own history as a company, and from our work with over 400 arts organisations - that ambition and quality go hand in hand with the ability to take risks. We are excited to see ACE acknowledging this and working to find ways to enable risk-taking through financial investment and a culture of innovation.

How we will support the sector:

Our user community is always pushing best practice forward. Both ambition and quality are deeply linked to the confidence and skill of our sector workers, and whilst the individuals we work with - from apprentices to chief executives - are hugely talented and committed, it takes strong peer networks and insight to help them make the most of those skills. We’ll continue to work in partnership with current and future leaders to meet the needs of a new decade; and we’ll use our unique position as a technology partner to almost 100 Arts Council NPOs to collate data which helps to benchmark, challenge and inspire best practice across the cultural community.

What do you think? How else would you like to see Spektrix partner with the sector to support Ambition & Quality?

 

Inclusivity & Relevance

“We want (organisations) to build closer connections with their communities, particularly those that they are currently underserving. We want them to mean more, to more people: to strengthen their relevance to the communities, partners and practitioners with whom they work.” (Let’s Create, Part 7)

We couldn’t agree more that art and culture should be as widely available and connected with audiences as possible - so much so that it’s written into our mission. Inclusivity is also a key value in our own business, and our commitment to diverse leadership was recognised by the FT Future 100 UK in 2018/19. That focus on improving inclusion has had an immediate impact on our success and the happiness of our workplace. In our offices we now have an almost even gender split, across nine ethnicities and nineteen nationalities, and a growing proportion of our team identify as disabled or have caring responsibilities. That doesn’t mean the job’s done - we’ll continue working to ensure that Spektrix reflects every organisation we work with, and that we’re supporting them, in turn, to ensure their audiences are as diverse as the communities which they represent.

How we will support the sector:

We believe the desire is there across the sector to ensure the audiences we serve are as diverse as our communities. What’s needed is an honest conversation and fresh ideas about how we alter our business processes, measurements and inputs to get the results we all want. We already partner with organisations who are constantly challenging their data, their marketing and their fundraising practice to widen their reach. We look forward to sharing what we are learning from them in the months and years to come, and, in turn, sharing our own learnings about inclusion in recruiting and retaining great people.

As part of this journey, our 2019 Insights Report featured a case study from Chichester Festival Theatre, showcasing their successful access membership and booking scheme. Our research highlighted the need for the sector to do more in opening up online booking to a wider audience, and we’ve facilitated ‘Assess your Access’ sessions with fifteen organisations across our user community.

How else can we help increase Inclusivity & Relevance in our sector? We’d love to hear your thoughts. 

 

Environmental Responsibility

“We want cultural organisations to act as leaders within their communities in terms of taking an environmentally responsible approach to running businesses and buildings: by lowering carbon emissions, increasing levels of recycling, cutting their use of plastic and reducing water consumption.” (Let’s Create, Part 7)

We are deeply inspired by the organisations we work with, many of whom are taking a lead on improving sustainability - like the ten organisations we work with who form part of the London Theatre Consortium, a group of venues who have reduced their carbon footprint by 43% over the last five years and continue looking for shared improvements. In our own work we are carefully monitoring our environmental impact, reviewing everything from our conference merchandise to our technology to reduce our footprint on the planet.

The greatest of these steps in 2020 will be the process of moving the Spektrix system from our own servers in the UK to cloud-based platforms including Microsoft Azure.This partnership means that a large part of our technology will be fuelled by 100% green energy, and that we’ll play a part in Microsoft’s ‘carbon negative’ pledge. We look forward to sharing more with you in the future about the journey we’ve embarked on to minimise our environmental impact.

This change is too important to do by halves. We’d love to hear from partners and leaders who can support us to challenge our working practices and create the impact that is needed.

 

Dynamism

“We know that the cultural sector has yet to fully utilise the power of data to understand its audiences and the impact of its work. We will build partnerships with the technology sector and with further and higher education to help drive improvement in this area.” (Let’s Create, Part 7)

We think ACE has it right when it comes to the external pressures on the sector and the velocity of change we face. As a business with one foot in the world of technology and another in the arts sector, we’re acutely aware of the structural difficulties arts organisations face. These challenges and conventions can make it feel impossible to respond quickly to changing financial and social environments, not to mention the pace of technological change. 

We believe that business models which are dynamic and designed to respond to change are the way forward to a vibrant future for the sector. 

How we will support the sector:

We have long advocated for a dynamic and data-informed (or as we often call it, agile) approach for arts and cultural organisations. We’ll continue to bring our experience of agile working to the sector, adapting the expertise developed in world-leading tech companies to play its part in the arts industry.

The agile development methodology with which we approach our own work allows both focus and flexibility. We invited users to explore this with us at our 2019 UK conference, and we look forward to working with arts organisations to consider how it could translate even more effectively across sectors.

We’d love to know what’s inspiring or challenging your agile working practices within the arts sector, and what we might do to support that.

 

 

In short, the ambitious ACE strategy leaves us all with much to think about, many ideas to share, and more than a few discussions to get underway.

Across the organisation we’re deeply committed to doing just that - we’re excited about the opportunity to partner with Arts Council England, arts organisations and thought leaders from across the sector in what is sure to be an exciting and challenging decade to come.

If you’d like to respond to this article, talk to us about a partnership, or just arrange a chat about the future of the arts in England and beyond, please get in touch. I’m always delighted to speak to colleagues from across the sector to learn about new practices and consider the part that Spektrix might play in their development. Together, by sharing our knowledge and uniting our resources, I’m excited at the prospect of creating a cultural sector that leads the field on environmental action, community cohesion and, of course, on artistic excellence through to 2030 and beyond.

Leave a comment below, join the conversation on twitter at @spektrix, or email me directly if you’d like to discuss any of our work.

 

Liv Nilssen, Sector Strategy Lead, Spektrix

Liv Nilssen
Sector Strategy Lead
liv.nilssen@spektrix.com
@leavie