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Building Kent’s cultural capacity

  • Date: 13 April 2011
  • Artform: None
  • Area: South East
A woman taking a picture of a child with some puppets Take the Pose, Tunbridge Wells Mela, July 2010, photo: courtesy of Kent Arts Development Unit.

Arts Council England works in partnership with local authorities to help us achieve our mission of great art for everyone. Through our funding, brokerage and development role, we aim to maximise our investment in the arts by building positive relationships with local councils and working with cultural organisations to increase engagement in the arts.

Kent County Council has built on the capacity of the local arts and cultural sector to reach out to and engage with new audiences. It has created a supportive environment for local artists and cultural organisations where they can share resources and expertise, find new partners and develop their artistic talents and products.

An NI 11 target set in 2008 to increase adult engagement in the arts resulted in Kent County Council exploring how it could best work with and support a wide range of local artists and arts organisations to help deliver an increase in audience numbers.

Arts Council England worked with the council to identify relevant activities and by supporting a network with other local authorities for mutual learning and development over three years.  Arts Council also invested development funds in this programme, which enabled Kent County Council to give more grants to arts organisations to develop new audiences - a shared objective.

Three key strands of work were developed:

  • understanding audience data and learning from what is and is not working
  • bringing arts and cultural organisations together to share expertise and encourage a positive ethos of collaboration through key events, including the Jam Packed audience development events and Cultural Strategy Summit, a focus event to consult on the development of the Cultural Strategy for Kent
  • investing in artists and cultural organisations through the New Recipes investment programme, aimed to invest in the growth of new artistic work and organisational growth and the council's Arts Investment Fund

Main challenges and how they were tackled

Understanding and using data

Getting people to understand and use audience data to inform their future planning was challenging. This required an investment of officer time and support from Audiences South and Arts & Business to make people see its relevance and value.

Generating new ideas

Something different was needed if local artists and cultural organisations were to really be encouraged and challenged to find original ways to engage new audiences. Funding was made available through the New Recipes programme and artists were actively encouraged to put innovative proposals together that would meet specific criteria. Funding was on a relatively small scale and was deliberately spread across different artforms and types of project.

Encouraging collaboration

Not everyone wants to or is willing to work collaboratively. There were some natural clusters that could be encouraged to connect by showing the overlap in their vision/mission. The events that were staged, including Jam Packed, were also designed to give artists an opportunity to share their experiences, to play together using a game specifically designed for audience development called Jamopoloy and to work together on common areas, such as programming, to build relationships.

Inspired by the classic Monopoly board, Jamopoly encouraged players to travel the cultural board, buying up artistic landmarks such as the Tate, The Angel of the North or Turner Contemporary and picking up 'kids go free' cards. The game aimed to open up communication regarding the design and intentions of organisations and artists seeking to grow audiences.


Thirty-seven different projects or programmes to develop new audiences and increase engagement in the arts have been supported. These are very varied and include dance pieces, festivals, pop-up shops, plays and craftwork.

One particular success story has been a collaboration between Applause, a rural touring company, and Panek, who support the making and presenting of new performances in Kent. The two organisations jointly submitted a successful funding application aimed at increasing engagement with theatre and performance by people living in rural or isolated communities in Kent. The project involved supporting a Kent-based company/artist to make a piece of outdoor performance suitable for rural touring.  Estelle Rosenfeld's piece Take The Pose was selected following an open-application process. Applause and Panek then worked with local promoters to include this as an outdoor performance at local fetes and festivals. The project commenced in autumn 2009 and resulted in a tour of 13 village locations across Kent with significant new audiences attending.

The two companies have now developed a Memorandum of Association, recognising where they have common aims and objectives, and are working together to develop local artists and rural touring in Kent. Further funding has been secured for 2010-2011 to support a second tour which will include Take the Pose, along with three new pieces of work commissioned from Kent-based companies and artists. The target is to present at least 40 performances from this 'menu' during summer 2011.


What worked well

  • investing time in building relationships
  • investing time and resources to increase the understanding of audience development and the importance of collaboration. As understanding grew more innovative proposals were developed
  • acknowledging from the start that not every proposal or partnership would work and that some risk-taking was necessary

What worked less well

  • more in-depth audience research would have been beneficial to some projects

Next Steps

Various networking and discussion meetings continue to be held by cultural organisations and Kent County Council to bring artists and companies together to share experiences and resources. Applause and Panek are considering further joint projects.

Arts Council England is continuing to work closely with Kent County Council on a shared prospectus linked to the Kent Cultural Strategy, identifying common goals and priorities which we will work on together to add value and impact.

For further information contact: Gail Brown, Arts Manager, Kent County Council, at: or on: 01622 696489.

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