Our history

The Arts Council was founded in 1946 in an era of increased opportunity for all, following the Second World War.

For 70 years, we’ve worked closely with Government and partners to give more people opportunities to enjoy and benefit from great art and culture.

The Arts Council has gone through many changes over its history from its original remit as the Arts Council of Great Britain to today. 

The light sculpture Skylon towers over buildings on London's Southbank.
View of the Skylon at the Festival of Britain, 1951. Photo © Historic England.

Key landmarks in our history


1940    Committee for Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) set up by Royal Charter

1941    John Maynard Keynes becomes Chair of CEMA

1945    46 art organisations are funded by CEMA

1946    Keynes dies shortly before Arts Council charter drafted

1948    Local government authorises spending on the arts


1951    Festival of Britain

1955    Arts Council increases the amount of grant-receiving organisations to 92, including the Royal Opera House and Royal Court Theatre

Visitors to the 1951 Festival of Light on London's Southbank view Richard Huw's mobile water sculpture.
Visitors viewing Richard Huw's mobile water sculpture at the Festival of Britain, 1951. Photo © Historic England.


1964    Jennie Lee appointed as first Arts Minister

1967    Arts Council Charter renewed


1975    Arts Council supports 262 organisations

Ian McKellen and Judi Dench perform on stage in 1976.
Judi Dench and Ian McKellen in the 1976 Royal Shakespeare Company production of Macbeth. Photo © The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.


1984    Glory Of the Garden report published by the Arts Council, claiming inequitable funding between London and the regions

1987    Norman Tebbitt campaigns for restructure of Arts Council funding system

1989    Wilding report published, claiming further underfunding in the regions


1992    Department of National Heritage formed

1993    National Lottery Act passed

1994    Arts Council of Great Britain replaced with National Arts Councils, National Lottery          

1997    Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) created. Chris Smith becomes first Secretary of State for DCMS, a senior cabinet post


2002    The Arts Council of England and the 10 regional arts boards merge

2003    The new organisation is named Arts Council England

2008    McMaster report published

A large telescope like sculpture sits on London's Southbank, in front of London Bridge.
Telectroscope, Paul St George, 2008. Produced by Artichoke. Photo © Matthew Andrews.


2010    Arts Council England publishes Achieving great art for everyone, our 10-year strategic framework for the arts

2011    Arts Council England assumed new responsibilities for the support and development of museums and libraries

2012    In the year of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, millions experienced the culmination of the four-year Arts Council-supported Cultural Olympiad programme, showcasing art and culture in England on a world stage

2013    Reflecting its newly expanded remit, the 10-year strategic framework was refreshed to Great art and culture for everyone

Click on the images below to view our annual review covers over the years