Bidding for London Borough of Culture? Knowing your baseline and planned impacts is vital.

Last week the Mayor of London launched the competition to award one borough the inaugural title of London Borough of Culture in 2019, with a second borough also being awarded the 2020 title.

The competition follows in the footsteps of the European Capital of Culture and UK City of Culture awards. It will see new investment in a co-ordinated programme of arts and culture to support specific local economic and social objectives.

We know from our work on the UK City of Culture award that arts and cultural programmes can add significant value. This includes meeting artistic objectives such as increasing audiences and developing sector skills, as well as economic aims to increase visitors and attract investment, alongside social impacts such as improving cohesion, confidence, ambition and the happiness of local people.

Who gets what now

The chart below shows data released last week by the Arts Council on its planned investment in National Portfolio Organisations over the next four years (2018-22). This funding represents the majority of Arts Council investment over this period, and gives an indication of wider performance of boroughs in securing core arts funding.

Although the data provides some useful insight, it is no indication of whether a borough is well placed to win Borough of Culture status. Areas with higher levels of investment may be able to make the case that they have a strong baseline of cultural assets on which a great programme can be built. Areas with lower investment may be able to demonstrate that their cultural assets need the added spotlight of the Borough of Culture status to achieve a sustainable uplift in arts funding in future years.

Getting Narrative and Baseline Right

In areas that are well funded and those which receive less, it is the narrative that is most important. Where is the borough now? Where does it want to be? How would the Borough of Culture title help deliver that? What economic and social legacy might that leave for the borough?

The data from the Arts Council is a useful start, but to develop their baseline and narrative, boroughs will also need to think about data and information to reflect the focus of their bid. This might include existing annual arts programming which could be enhanced, local venues and their capacity to host events and programming, current visitor numbers, the size and composition of arts and creative sector businesses in the area, the profile and recognition of the area, levels of community cohesion, and the diversity of cultures in the area, on which programming could draw.

Articulating a clear rationale for why the title is needed, setting clear and realistic aims for the programme and getting local stakeholders on board with this narrative are fundamental.

We know from our work for DCMS and Cities of Culture in Derry/Londonderry 2013 and Hull 2017, the enormous transformational potential of a cultural programme. London boroughs now have five months to develop their bids, for both the 2019 and 2020 awards, and it is likely to be very competitive. Bids which are clear from early on about their baseline and the impacts they can deliver will have strong foundations and are more likely to be successful.

Regeneris Consulting’s team are experts in analysing the broad range of economic and social impacts of cultural events, programmes and institutions. We provided advisory support to DCMS on the assessment of bids for the 2013 and 2017 UK Cities of Culture and are currently undertaking the programme evaluation for the Hull 2017 UK City of Culture Programme. We also shared some of our early findings to help inform the London Borough of Culture Programme.

If you would like to discuss the London Borough of Culture and any support we could provide to your bid, please contact Stuart Merali-Younger (s.merali-younger@regeneris.co.uk) or Margaret Collins (m.collins@regeneris.co.uk) or call us on 0207 336 6188.

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