Future Arts Centres responds to White Paper consultation

Future Arts Centres was established in 2013 to champion the achievements of arts centres at local, regional and national level, and to raise the profile of arts centres’ vital contribution to the cultural civic life of our town centres and cities. The opportunity to contribute to the call from DCMS for ideas for a new cultural strategy (#OurCulture) seemed like an ideal opportunity to highlight how arts centres can meet some of the challenges identified around people, places and funding.

Here is our response to the White Paper consultation:

Future Arts Centres is a partnership between nine leading arts centres, supporting a wider network of more than 90 arts centres from across the UK.

We recognise the challenges of places, people and funding, and believe arts centres are in a unique position in terms of their ability to meet them. Many arts centres are already tackling these issues head on, and with a great degree of success. It is imperative that the potential for arts centres to offer the best possible return on future investment of public finance is realised, both in terms of cultural, economic and social benefits.

We have outlined below how arts centres are already meeting these challenges, and how they could continue to meet them in the future.


Arts centres are community hubs, utilising multiple artforms to engage the widest range of people from our local communities, as artists, participants and audiences. This ability to offer multiple entry points to cultural activity places us in a unique position in terms of the diversity of the people we work with.

Open all day and evening, arts centres are communities of place as well as communities of interest, using their local position to integrate cultural and community activity with the wider ecology of local services, such as schools, libraries, health and social care provision.

Unlike single artform organisations, which often revolve around the vision of a solo artistic director, arts centre leaders adopt a more curatorial, collaborative programming style. This enables us to be flexible, responsive to our local communities, often working with local artists, producers and programmers to co-author and co-curate activity, developing a genuine shared ownership with our communities.


These connections to our local communities are critical in terms of engagement. As community hubs, arts centres are able to breakdown many of the barriers to attendance, particularly behavioural and financial.

We work with local people to ensure that our programmes enable their voices to be heard, making our space their space. We utilise a wide range of pricing schemes to ensure an equality of offer within our programmes, ensuring we aren’t just seen as somewhere for the affluent to go. But nor are we exclusively for the disadvantaged – the quality and range of artistic work we do attracts the widest range of people, who share experiences in our buildings, genuinely contributing to a greater sense of understanding, tolerance and community cohesion.

Our work with children and young people, providing many with progression routes from participation to employment, also provides routes to reach adults who may not have had the opportunity to engage with culture before, as parents and carers invited in to share their child’s experiences.

This work also provides a vital route for the development of the next generation of artists, ensuring everyone has the opportunity to explore their creativity. The role of arts centres in nurturing talent is a critical part of diversifying who makes art.

Arts centres are also well placed to meet the artistic challenges of today’s world. Increasingly audiences are seeking-out experiences which go beyond watching an actor in a theatre or looking at a picture in a gallery, and artists are questioning the traditions and assumptions of practice. Our multi-artform and cross-artform practices enable us to see this shift as a welcome erosion of the traditional boundaries, as we support artists and audiences to explore their relationship in new ways. This results in more co-authorship, more co-creation and ultimately, more engagement from non-traditional arts attenders, reflecting our diverse cultures and communities.


Arts centres thrive through their business models, partnerships and pricing. A high proportion are social enterprises, including all nine of the Future Arts Centres partners. Funding and philanthropy are part of the picture, not the whole picture. We balance our books through opening our spaces up to local community and corporate users, deepening relationships with local people; utilising more commercial artforms (comedy, music, cinema); and developing long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships with local authorities and organisations, enabling us to deliver arts activity to meet the social, educational and health priorities of our communities.

Our cross subsidy models enable arts centres to deliver excellent cultural, economic and social return on public investment.

The future

We believe it is vital that the role of arts centres within the wider cultural landscape is recognised and championed at the highest level. Arts centres are already demonstrating the benefits of mixed income business models and genuine connections to local communities, leading to thriving and sustainable cultural organisations.

Continued public investment in the arts is critical, but where choices are made about where to invest, the excellent return on investment offered by arts centres must be recognised.

Alongside this, we need to see greater recognition and more opportunity for the integration of cultural activity into the wider regenerational agendas, including education, health and social care as well as economic and placemaking activity.

Arts centres are already playing a major role in the positive social change taking place in our UK towns and cities, and with greater investment and opportunity, can continue to drive change from within local communities.

You can read other responses to #OurCulture here: https://dcms.dialogue-app.com/