Finding a balance between excellence and participation in arts provision

Finding a balance between excellence and participation in arts provision

By Heidi Bellamy


This dissertation strives to assess the impact of central government directives relating to participation and excellence, to evaluate their relevance within a wider context and to offer recommendations. The research includes a review of the literature, policy documents and professional discourse, a survey of National Association of Local Government Arts Officers, a survey of National Campaign for the Arts Members, focus Groups and interviews. The summary findings talk through the seeming disconnects between provision and excellence and underlines the diverging targets and the dichotomy between access and excellence.


In terms of performance management many local authority officers are committed to delivering quantitative outcomes for participation through the local area agreement performance indicator NI11 ‘Engagement in the Arts’.

Whereas, following Sir Brian McMaster influential review Supporting Excellence in the Arts: From Measurement to Judgement (2008), current policy direction within both Department for Culture, Media and Sport1 (DCMS) and consequently Arts Council England2 (ACE) is highly influenced by the qualitative concept of excellence.

McMaster’s recommendations are clustered under the following headings of;

  • Encouraging excellence, innovation and risk-taking
  • Encouraging wider and deeper engagement with the arts by audiences
  • Judging the quality of the arts in the future

Whilst a focus on the quality of artistic experience has been welcomed by many practitioners as reinvesting the arts with intrinsic value and reaffirming the central role of the artist, tensions have arisen from these top down directives for local authority officers with an arts remit.

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Resource type: Research | Published: 2013