ACE as development agency – with digital a key focus

15 May 2017, Mandy Berry

In the Tailored Review of Arts Council England, published on 25th April, DCMS recommends that its role and functions as a development agency should be defined, “provid[ing] a framework for its priority setting and decision making that will complement and strengthen its ten year strategic framework.”

This offers opportunities for Arts Council England to look beyond current investment and funding to a more strategic role in building a strong, diverse and resilient sector. It is good to see an acknowledgement of the importance of this – yet, five years after the government abolished the nine Regional Development Agencies in England responsible for economic development, it will be vital to evidence the impact and value of the work.

Let’s not forget the significant contribution made by arts and culture to the UK economy! Cultural organisations and practitioners contributed £27bn to the UK economy in 2015. (Source.) With the intense challenges that the sector faces with Brexit, it is more important than ever that Arts Council England has a clear and defined role as a development body at arms length from government.

The review also touches on many areas that GMV believes are crucial to the development of a thriving arts and culture sector – including investment, resilience, data, IP, and reporting. Digital is a key focus. The review says that “the Arts Council needs both to require more from its funded organisations and to support those organisations to deliver more in today’s increasingly digital-driven landscape.”

It continues: “The Arts Council’s push to build digital skills capability should support organisations and individuals to improve their online presence; to market themselves and raise brand awareness; to improve digital leadership at executive and non executive levels; to improve the quality of data usage and understanding of Intellectual Property Rights; to digitise arts and culture and widen participation; and to adopt internal efficiencies in their business models.”

It is clear that there is a good deal of work to be done before the sector can achieve its potential. The DCMS review cites the fact that for 37% of organisations consulted, a lack of capability and knowledge was a major barrier to achieving their digital aspirations.

Digital innovation is an essential part of the mix for the arts sector today – from capturing and distributing creative work, to using data to build relationships and measure impact, to building resilience and sustainability. Our report just published by Nesta aims to help fill this gap, offering practical advice to arts organisations on how to adopt and make use of new digital technologies – and transform their business models as a result.

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