Future Arts Centres: A Provocation

As the first Future Arts Centres event kicks off at Stratford Circus today, Clare Connor (Stratford Circus) and Gavin Barlow (The Albany), Co-Chairs of NPAC, share their thinking on why the conversation about the arts centres of tomorrow is more crucial than ever before.

The ongoing crisis facing the whole of the British economy is forcing the subsidised arts sector to answer challenging questions about the return it offers on the investment made by national and local government and other funding bodies.

In this landscape, it is more important than ever that arts organisations are able to present a compelling case for the contribution they make to society on a local, regional and national level.

Arts centres, as distinct from theatres, galleries and other public arts venues, are in a particularly strong position to do so. Arts centres provide a unique offering to their communities meaning they have a wide spread of connections and platforms for engagement, often with the most vulnerable and socially excluded.

The services they provide are extensive, and typically arts centres are buzzing with people from early morning to late at night. The innovative business models arts organisations are currently being asked to explore already exist within arts centres, due to the range of ways in which they work in their communities.

Their flexibility and collaborations, range of artforms, and multi-faceted approaches to community engagement are the very features that make them exciting places for artists to work and excellent seeding grounds for new ideas.

However, there has been a failure to articulate this effectively in the public sphere. Arts centres are often seen as the ‘poor relation’ alongside theatres, galleries and concert halls, offering a less valuable creative experience. The nature of the organisations and the work that goes on within their walls means the arts centre story is more complex, and does not easily attract media attention. The absence of a strong voice, in terms of industry figureheads and networking bodies, has allowed other areas of the creative industries to occupy the agenda. Now is the time to change this.

Clare Connor (Stratford Circus) & Gavin Barlow (The Albany), Co-Chairs, NPAC