Cultural Compact

“City Culture Compacts – a strategic partnership to co-design and deliver a vision for culture in the city” Arts Council Cultural Cities Enquiry – Jan 2019

A new piece of work for the West of England Combined Authority, helping to define a structure for a future Cultural Compact, but one that acts across a region, the West of England, rather than a city – a challenge in itself.

Without the clear animating context of a “city”, the WofE Cultural Compact must therefore find its purpose not in the generation of impact within a specific narrow geographic location, but in the alignment, amplification and prioritisation of actions across a broad range of diverse stakeholders.

In my mind there is also another important purpose for the Cultural Compact, to be the catalyst for new thinking on the role and value of culture, able to initiate strategy development and seek opportunity and support for new innovation at a regional (and/or national) level.

There is a simultaneous contradiction of both a growing awareness of the positive impact of the creative and cultural sectors and the current existential challenge to many of the underpinning institutions and business models. The ability to enable dynamic enquiry on the expansion of cultural inputs across a policy landscape, and the facilitation of new models of working has the potential to drive significant change.

As examples, exploring the capacity of culture and creativity to make a contribution to policy delivery related to Social Prescribing in the face of a major health crisis, or in community cohesion as related to the localising effects of the pandemic (and in some senses the “15 min city” thinking referred to in the blog below).

Other pandemic accelerated impacts include the strategic necessity for cultural institutions to become more “hybrid” as organisations (digital / physical / public realm), but also the opportunity implicit in that for increased access and inclusion as they think beyond the previous “walls” and seek a new model of engagement.

Underneath this is the challenge of measurement and evaluation – capturing the value of culture. This is clearly easier with some instrumental measures, e.g. generation of jobs or increased investment, but always much harder when related to influences on attitudes and behaviour change. And unfortunately (but correctly) this is a challenge which much be addressed in detail when translating recommended activity into actionable political policy.

It is my hope that the Cultural Compact becomes a mechanism for policy alignment and strategic input, politically literate and able to position culture within bigger picture economic and infrastructure development, in order to affect positive change for investment and creative opportunity in the West of England.

Pictures from a visit to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh, a brief escape – and the utter emotional joy of being in a gallery again – before plunging back into another hard lockdown.

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