Alan Bennett, Ilkley Literary Festival. Credit: Ilkley Literary Festival
The final version of Achieving great art for everyone, the Arts Council's 10-year strategic framework for the arts, was shaped extensively by a wide range of people who work with the Arts Council or have an interest in how the arts in England develop. To gather the views of interested parties, we ran an open consultation on an initial draft of the framework from January to April 2010. Around 2,500 people took part in the consultation including artists, arts organisations, members of the public, children and young people and representatives of central and local government and other partner agencies. Views were shared through a range of channels including written consultation responses, online debate, meetings, round tables and targeted research.
A full report on the consultation methodology and results was compiled by independent analysts Dialogue by Design. In this section, we summarise what we learned through the consultation process. We set out the key issues we believe consultees wanted us to address and for each issue explain how we adapted our strategic framework in response. The purpose of this section is to help consultees to understand how their contribution has made a difference to the Arts Council's thinking and, where relevant, why we are unable to address their requests or concerns.
What we heard: our consultees gave the Arts Council a clear mandate to plan for the future of public investment in the arts on behalf of the sector. They welcomed the strategic approach that we are taking and recognised the importance of a long-term vision at a time of uncertainty and change. However, consultees felt that we hadn't quite got our vision right. They wanted a simpler, bolder vision that explained more clearly what will be different in 10 years' time.
What's changed: our strategic framework retains the spirit of the original vision, but we use more inspiring language to express it. We hope that the new vision packs the punch that consultees were looking for.
What we heard: many consultees were passionate about artistic excellence and agreed that it should be central to the Arts Council's long-term strategy. However, they wanted us to be clearer about what we mean by artistic excellence and how it will be judged. Consultees suggested that our understanding of excellence should incorporate the audience experience, with many defining excellence as art that is relevant and meaningful, and that challenges people to think or feel differently.
What we changed: our Chair, Dame Liz Forgan, uses her Preface to explain the Arts Council's philosophical position on excellence and how we understand the importance and difficulties of the concept. In setting out the context for our long-term vision and goals, we explain that our guiding principle when making judgements is to look for excellence: how original, innovative and artistically ambitious is the work, project, or event? Does it, in some way, have the ability or potential to change how the audience or participants view the world? Finally, we include increased public appreciation of art as a critical success factor under goal one ('Talent and artistic excellence are thriving and celebrated'), emphasising again the essential role of audiences in defining what makes art great.
What we heard: consultees strongly supported a focus on risk taking and felt that the Arts Council has an important role in encouraging innovation in artistic practice. They wanted further assurance that artists would be at the centre of our plans, and told us that they would like us to invest more in artistic research and development. Many consultees expressed concern about low levels of pay in the arts, and the struggle for financial security that many artists experience.
What's changed: in goal one ('Talent and artistic excellence are thriving and celebrated') we reinforce the centrality of artists to our thinking, and one of our priorities for the next four years is to establish a coherent, nationwide approach to the development of artistic talent. In goal three('The arts are sustainable, resilient and innovative'), we commit to encouraging innovation through recognising the value of research and development in the production, presentation and distribution of art. The issue of pay levels is beyond our remit, but we will continue to work with partners to encourage greater investment in the sector and the creation of new opportunities for artists to earn a living.
What we heard: consultees recognised that diversity is critical to a thriving arts sector, but wanted the Arts Council to be clearer about what diversity means to us.
What's changed: the final strategic framework contains a definition of what we mean by diversity. In addition, as one of our priorities for the next four years, we will support an artistically-led approach to diversity in the arts, recognising that diverse practice is an essential component of excellence and enhances the relevance of art for a wider range of people.