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Cultural tourism: how Arts Council England helps the North enhance its appeal

  • Date: 12 June 2014
  • Artform: All
  • Area: North
Hull City of Culture Hull City of Culture, Neil Holmes

The pull exerted on both overseas and domestic tourists by arts and culture is strong: at least £856 million of annual spending by visitors to the UK can be directly attributed to their influence. Two of Arts Council England’s strategic goals in particular play an important part in ensuring that the standard of this cultural offer in each area remains high and that everyone has access to it. They are goals one (excellence is thriving and celebrated in the arts, museums and libraries) and two (everyone has the opportunity to experience and be inspired by the arts, museums and libraries).

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The cultural offer in the North of England has never been stronger. With our major cities presenting large-scale festivals, popular public free events attracting people from all over the world for their first visits to the region, annual festivals in urban and rural areas bringing in thousands of fresh visitors and imaginative use of heritage venues throughout the region, the North is rightly established as a key destination for cultural tourists.

Cities that deliver

Hull’s bid to secure the title of UK City of Culture 2017 - and its ultimate success in doing so - is a prime example of the transformative power of culture. In 2013 the city was awarded a £3 million Arts Council England Creative people and places grant to develop the city’s cultural offer. This brought together a consortium of organisations including Artlink, Hull Truck Theatre, Volcom, Hull City Council and Hull and East Yorkshire Community Foundation and led to the development of the strategy that secured the title for the city. Plans are now in train for a 365 day programme of 1,500 events, including 25 festivals in and around the city in 2017. The city predicts it will welcome seven million visitors during its special year. The core programme will be supported by up to £3 million funding from the Arts Council.

Liverpool builds continually on the legacy of its year as European City of Culture 2008. Between 23-27 July 2014 the city stages the nation’s flagship cultural event marking 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War. Memories of August 1914 is commissioned jointly by Liverpool City Council and 14-18 NOW, the First World War Centenary Cultural Programme, to which we are contributing £5 million of lottery funding.

Every two years the city also hosts the Liverpool Biennial, the largest international contemporary art festival in the UK. The 2014 festival runs between 5 July and 26 October.

Since the first Biennial in 1999, over 279 artists from 72 countries have presented artwork in the city Supported by Arts Council England, Liverpool City Council, the European Regional Development Fund 2007 – 2013 and Founding Supporter James Moores, in 2012 the Liverpool Biennial attracted 692,000 visitors to the city and generated £21 million of economic impact.

Manchester International Festival, also biennial, prides itself on being the world’s first and only festival of new work. The 18-day festival in 2013 featured over 300 performances of more than 30 new commissions and special events. Audiences for the 2013 festival are estimated at around 250,000, an increase of 10 per cent on the 2011 event. Around 75 per cent of audiences came from Greater Manchester, with the rest from other parts of the UK and beyond, including visitors from more than 45 countries. The next festival runs from 2-9 July 2015.

Another major festival hosted by Manchester and supported by the Arts Council is Manchester Literature Festival, bringing high quality live literature to the city and showcasing the very best in contemporary writing. 9,682 people attended in 2013, a 20 per cent increase on the previous year, with 29 per cent of them travelling from outside Greater Manchester. The 2014 festival runs from 6-19 October.

Durham, too, has a book festival, which reached over 8,000 people in 2013. But the city is also known for its light festival Lumiere. Managed by Artichoke and supported by Durham County Council, Arts Council England and Lottery funds, Lumiere 2013 entertained 175,000 people. The 27 installations included  the world’s biggest helium balloon, a phone box filled with real fish, a Christmas Tree made out of 3,000 plastic bags donated by the public and a giant 3D projection of an elephant stomping down Durham’s famous Elvet Bridge.

A flourish of festivals

In fact the North has a real strength in festivals – not only in the big cities – that are supported by the Arts Council, and which draw visitors in to the area. On the literary front the well-established Ilkley Literature festival attracted 26,515 people in 2013 - the Festival’s largest ever audience - to 248 events over 17 days across 20 venues. The 2014 festival runs 3-19 October.

Another new festival mounted in 2013 for the first time was the Festival of Thrift in Darlington which describes itself as ‘the first national festival that celebrated the fun that can be had ‘on the cheap’. The festival attracted an estimated 27,000 people to its weekend of workshops, talks, entertainment, food and thrifty shopping. Partners supporting the festival alongside the Arts Council included Darlington Borough Council, Creative Darlington and Teesside University. The 2014 Festival will be over the weekend of 27-28 September and has also been funded by our Grants for the arts programme with £80,000.

More than 80,000 people filled the streets of Hull for the 2013 Freedom Festival. This was a significant increase on the previous year's attendance. The festival generated more than £2 million expenditure in Hull. Freedom Festival 2014 runs from 5-7 September. The Freedom Festival is one of Arts Council England's National portfolio organisations and also received £240,000 through our Catalyst funding programme

The AV Festival of contemporary art, film and music, takes place every two years across the North East. The festival is built on collaboration. Partners include BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, The Sage Gateshead, mima, Tyneside Cinema, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums and Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art. Support comes not only from the Arts Council but also from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, BFI Film Forever National Lottery funding and The Henry Moore Foundation.

The AV Festival has seen festival-on-festival growth in visitor figures from 6,395 in 2003 to 94,096 in 2012, 2014 figures are still awaited. 24 per cent of its visitors in 2012 came from outside the region. The 2012 festival contributed £516,000 added value to the local economy, and achieved a return on investment of £2.88 for every £1 of public funding received.

On a bigger scale, 2014 sees an unprecedented festival across the whole of Yorkshire: The Yorkshire Festival 2014 is a 100-day arts and cultural festival which runs from 27 March to the start of the Tour de France in Leeds on 5 July. Creating excitement and anticipation in advance of this first visit to the North of England by Le tour, the Festival has commissioned 47 projects that are officially part of the festival. The Arts Council has funded the festival with a grant of nearly £1 million alongside other supporters Yorkshire Water and Yorkshire local authorities. The festival is run by Welcome to Yorkshire.

Partnerships pay off

The Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle  comprises four major venues with outstanding sculpture collections – Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Hepworth Wakefield, the Henry Moore Institute and Leeds Art Gallery. As the collaborative website puts it: ‘four leading venues, 200 artists, 20 miles apart’ establishing Yorkshire as a new world centre for sculpture and the best place in Europe to see contemporary and modern sculpture for free. The four galleries between them brought one million visitors to Yorkshire in 2013.

Successful partnerships are also at the heart of the consortia in the North who secured four of the 10 awards made recently via the Arts Council’s Cultural destinations programme. Part of a partnership between the Arts Council and the national tourist board VisitEngland, the programme enables arts and cultural organisations, working with destination management organisations, to increase their reach, engagement and resilience through working with the tourism sector. The awards run from March 2014 for a maximum of three years.

The Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal and its partners have been awarded £324,000 for a project whose aim is to restore Cumbria’s reputation as the UK’s leading rural cultural tourism destination. It will do this by representing and celebrating a long-established model to create innovative and often revolutionary art in small and intimate places to a new contemporary audience. Cumbria currently attracts 14.8 million tourists who between them spend £994 million a year (2012 figures).

In Liverpool a £316,500 Cultural destinations programme award is enabling the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and other members of Liverpool Arts and Regeneration Consortium (LARC) to work with cultural organisations, Liverpool City Council, Liverpool City Region LEP and other visitor economy organisations in the city to identify new ways of using the existing arts and culture offer to support the business tourism agenda.

The Sheffield Cultural Partnership has been awarded £271,390 to extend its existing creative signposting and support the city’s festivals. The consortium includes Sheffield Theatres, Museums Sheffield, Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust, Site Gallery, Yorkshire Artspace, Sheffield International Venues, University of Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam University, Workstation/Showroom, Marketing Sheffield, Doc/Fest, Tramlines, Off The Shelf, Art Sheffield and Festival of the Mind.

Square Chapel Trust and partners, who received £292,500 from the Cultural Destinations programme, will use arts and culture to boost tourism in the region, encourage more overnight stays and develop collaborative packages for tourists.