Working with and supporting cultural organisations: local cultural policies and Newton’s Law of Cultural Funding

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Working with and supporting cultural organisations: local cultural policies and Newton’s Law of Cultural Funding

The Lowry building interior during closure in lockdown
© The Lowry in Lockdown. Photo: Nathan Chandler

By Rachel Johnson, Centre for Cultural Value
Abigail Gilmore
Benjamin Dunn


Researchers Rachel Johnson, Abigail Gilmore and Benjamin Dunn look at how Covid-19 is changing arts and culture policy and strategy within local cultural ecosystems, and the potentially damaging effects of a funding ‘gravitational pull’ within well-networked organisations and regions.

The Centre for Cultural Value’s research is showing how Covid-19 is changing policies that concern the arts and culture, not just at a national level but also in local cultural ecosystems.

Analysis of local cultural strategies and data on Arts Council England (ACE) and other long-term and emergency funding in the Greater Manchester city-region identifies a ‘gravitational pull’ that concentrates investment within well-networked organisations, and highlights the role of place-based partnership working in addressing the impacts of Covid-19 and the challenge of ‘levelling up’.

Local cultural strategies and partnership models

Despite the global reach of the pandemic, and the nationwide effort to support recovery, our research shows that cultural policy continues to be driven at local and regional level, guided by local cultural strategies and founded in place-based and partnership working.

Our ecosystems analysis of Greater Manchester examined the strategies for Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), Manchester City Council (MCC), and Salford Culture and Place Partnership (SCPP), revealing different types of partnership working which variously position cultural organisations and communities in establishing strategic aims and leading delivery.

The cultural strategies of GMCA and MCC both have delivery plans that focus on activity by partner cultural organisations. The GMCA strategy Grown in Manchester. Known Around the World identifies 35 Greater Manchester Culture Fund Portfolio organisations within the 10 districts of Greater Manchester and funds them to deliver city-regional strategic priorities. MCC’s strategy is led by the Cultural Leaders Group, comprising organisations such as HOME, the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester International Festival, Bridgewater Hall, and Band on the Wall.

In both strategies, organisations champion strategic priorities and support the wider cultural ecology. For example, Manchester’s Cultural Ambition strategy highlights the work of the city-centre based Royal Exchange Theatre and HOME in outlying wards identified as cultural ‘cold spots’. Meanwhile, cultural activity in historically under-funded districts such as Thameside is led by activity of Greater Manchester portfolio organisations such as Global Grooves.

This approach has continued during the pandemic, with GMCA advancing funding to portfolio organisations via its Culture Recovery Plan. MCC’s Culture Recovery Plan meanwhile centres on one organisation as a key partner for delivery, the Manchester International Festival:

“At the [council’s long-term recovery plan’s] core will be Manchester International Festival (MIF) 2021, which will support the recovery of our communities and neighbourhoods, and build a sustained message that the city is open and embracing the future.”

Published at the very beginning of the pandemic, SCPP’s cultural strategy, Suprema Lex, did not include defined delivery plans. Founded on a partnership model that spans cultural and non-cultural partners, including private sector organisations, Suprema Lex has been able to ‘flex’ in response to the pandemic, delivering ad-hoc initiatives such as Box on the Docks, a Covid-secure outdoor programme on Salford Quays that commissions artists from around the city.

Newton’s Law of Funding?

A necessary component of place-based strategies, partnership working can risk creating a gravitational pull in which cultural organisations with higher levels of funding attract ever-greater support. This has implications for inter-regional inequalities, as historically under-funded districts generally lack the organisations and partnership connections to pull in investment.

We cross-referenced data on Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs), recipients of Arts Council England-distributed Culture Recovery Funds (rounds one and two, over and under £1 million), and the Greater Manchester Culture Fund Portfolio. We found that portfolio membership appeared to significantly increase the likelihood of receiving Culture Recovery Fund (CRF) funding. Moreover, these three forms of support also reflected historic geographic inequalities in cultural investment, albeit to varying degrees.

The distribution of NPOs reflects a historic concentration of investment in Manchester city centre. Of the 42 NPOs in Greater Manchester, 33 of these are based in Manchester, with two each in Salford and Oldham, and one each in Bolton, Bury, Rochdale, Stockport and Wigan. There are none in Trafford and Thameside.

Meanwhile, of the 35 organisations funded through the Greater Manchester portfolio, 18 of these are also NPOs. On the one hand, this evidences a further concentration of support in ACE-funded organisations. On the other, distributing funding across all 10 districts of the city-region and funding an almost equivalent number of non-NPOs begins to address the concentration of investment at a national level, even if still within a broadly ‘trickle-down’ model.

National and regional portfolio organisations also benefited from the Culture Recovery Fund and Cultural Capital Kickstart awards. Indeed, approximately 34% of the £24m CRF funding awarded to Greater Manchester-based organisations was distributed among Greater Manchester portfolio organisations. This includes all three awards over £1million. Moreover, 61% of funding going to Greater Manchester went to organisations in Manchester itself.

Four of the six Kickstart awards for building-based works were awarded to Manchester-based organisations: Manchester Museum, Manchester International Festival/The Factory (formally awarded to MCC), Contact Theatre and Band on the Wall (named as Inner City Music). Of these awards, and all the awards nationally, the largest went to Manchester International Festival/The Factory which, at £21m, represents three times the total awarded to all London-based organisations. This reflects once more a concentration of funding for those already supported by local and combined authorities and national funders.

To put these observations in context, we should note that Manchester City Council has a large, dedicated team of cultural policymakers. This is unique to the Greater Manchester region. Both Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Manchester City Council have continued to directly invest and lobby for investment in culture, even during times of enormous funding cuts to local authorities in the area of arts development, identified as 48.9% over the last ten years in the recent Fabian Society report. Greater Manchester has also benefited from a long-standing relationship with Arts Council England, from the Manchester-based ACE area office for the north, to the historic partnership agreement between ACE and the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities formed long before city-region devolution.

Manchester’s policy infrastructure and strong relationship with ACE have ensured the city’s ability to secure unrivalled cultural investment in the region and, above all, in the city. This gravitational pull has implications for nurturing cultural ecologies in historically under-funded areas who may not have the resources, infrastructure and relationships required to secure investment and address long-standing spatial inequalities.

The stated Greater Manchester priorities of cultural democracy and geographic equality and the likelihood of increasingly localised cultural consumption underline the need to investigate the case for trickle down strategies and consider the role of place-based partnerships in redressing inequalities within cultural ecosystems, as we turn towards the twin imperatives of ‘building back better’ and ‘levelling up’.


Published: 2021
Resource type: Research