- Date: 13 April 2011
- Artform: None
- Region: North West
Arts Council England has strengthened local authority support for the arts across Greater Manchester through a long-term partnership agreement with all 10 authorities.
A formal partnership agreement sets out areas of joint working between the 10 authorities in Greater Manchester and the Arts Council. It was established in 2004 to realise growth, broaden access to and raise the quality of the arts experience.
David Gaffney, Relationship Manager Regional Planning, Arts Council England explains: 'It's a way of working together and using resources more effectively across the city region. For us it's about helping local authorities strengthen their support for the arts rather than supporting the arts sector itself.'
High level sign-up to the agreement means it has real clout. The partnership reports to the Regional Council of Arts Council England, North West and the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA). AGMA is the organisation that brings together chief executives and council leaders from across the 10 authorities to work together on strategic and policy issues that impact on Greater Manchester. It lends considerable political weight to the partnership.
With AGMA's backing comes buy-in from the individual local authorities. It strengthens the partnership and gives it a higher profile.
'Having all 10 councils signed up gives us real influence on other issues,' says David. 'It's helped bring about positive decisions around the joint funding of arts organisations.'
AGMA is actively involved in partnership funding decisions, so councillors see reports and have regular discussions about arts activities. This keeps the arts high up on their agenda - important during political negotiations on issues like the formation of a combined authority for Greater Manchester.
'We started the whole thing off, bringing all the arts development officers together initially then involving more senior people over time', says David. 'We've been really active in leading the partnership - organising meetings, setting agendas and so on.
'Without our will to make it happen and our funding as the glue that holds it all together, I'm not sure all the authorities will have recognised the value of linking up and working together.'
Jo Crowther, Head, AGMA Grants Unit agrees: 'That link with the Arts Council is really important, without their involvement the partnership would not have the trust and credibility that it has. They've been really good at bringing people together at different operational and strategic levels. They're highly visible, actively contributing and pushing things forward. And we look to them for their expertise.'
The Arts Council's £160,000 contribution each year to a strategic arts fund for the partnership agreement brings in £340,000 from AGMA.
Two thirds of the fund is spent on local arts activities, levering in further funding from individual councils.
The other third goes on projects that have wider benefit and significance across Greater Manchester, like the opening procession to the 2009 Manchester International Festival. Organised by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller, the procession involved community groups coming together from across the whole of Greater Manchester.
AGMA invested over £2 million in the arts through the partnership agreement in 2009/10, much of it towards supporting major organisations in Manchester like the Hallé and Royal Exchange Theatre, as well as smaller companies such as the M6 Theatre Company.
In addition, the proportion of AGMA's grants spend on the arts has increased over the years.
'AGMA invested £3.4 million in a whole range of revenue clients in 2009/10,' says Jo. 'The proportion of that budget that went to the arts was 62% - when the scheme started in 1986 it was around 33%. The Arts Council's input has helped significantly in getting a bigger share for the arts.'
'The key to success is to get the arts at the core of local authority thinking by showing how the arts can help tackle the really difficult challenges people face', says David.
'So we've focused on initiatives that support things like health and older people, and improving the public realm. But this hasn't been at the expense of quality. And we haven't lost sight of the need to increase participation in the arts, through more volunteering opportunities for example.'
Priority is given to projects that will have a lasting impact, and some initiatives originally funded through strategic funds have been taken on by others. Like the Arts and Health Coordinator, a post created through the Greater Manchester Arts and Health Project, now employed by the Greater Manchester Public Health Network.
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