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Arts chief weighs in on funding debate, urging investment in culture

08:34 19 January 2015

Sir Peter Bazalgette, chairman of Arts Council England, at Norwich Castle on a previous visit to the city. Photo: Steve Adams

Sir Peter Bazalgette, chairman of Arts Council England, at Norwich Castle on a previous visit to the city. Photo: Steve Adams

With local council funding for the cultural projects being squeezed, it was an interesting time for one of the most powerful figures in the arts world to visit the region. And as EMMA KNIGHTS reports, Sir Peter Bazalgette, chairman of Arts Council England, was not shy about getting involved in the debate.

Promoting region as a must-see destination

Making Norfolk and Suffolk a must-see destination for tourists across the country and around the world, is the ambitious aim of a project being led by the New Anglia Cultural Board working alongside New Anglia LEP.

The cultural board includes representatives from many of the area’s key arts organisations who are working together to create a stronger collective brand to market the two counties as a year-round destination to the rest of the world.

Helen Wilson, board chairman, said: “Because we have got such a special cultural offer the idea is that we can attract more visitors to Norfolk and Suffolk because of the cultural hook. People know from research that culture can be a really good way of attracting new people to an area. It is what makes a place distinctive.

“Globally 40pc of the tourism market is around cultural tourism. It is big business. We want to get Norfolk and Suffolk on the map as really must-see destinations. If you can get that right you will help to grow the economy.”

She said the project was costing about £300,000 and being funded partly by the Arts Council, New Anglia LEP and the two county councils. Throughout the next two months a plan for the project is being created.

Among the arts organisations represented on the New Anglia Cultural Board are the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, Norwich Theatre Royal, Writers’ Centre Norwich, Norfolk Museums Service, SeaChange Arts, Aldeburgh Music, Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, New Wolsey Theatre and Gainsborough’s House.

Mrs Wilson said: “We have got a world class offer culturally but most people do not know about it. The ultimate ambition is that both Norfolk and Suffolk become world class and must-see destinations with tourists coming from abroad and other parts of the country.”

With acute pressure on its finances, Norfolk County Council has identified the arts as an area in which savings might be made. There are currently around 20 cultural organisations in the county waiting to hear whether they will have their funding reduced.

After a visit to the region last week, Sir Peter Bazalgette had a clear message for those in control of the area’s public purse strings.

“We know you [local authorities] are under pressure but please do not completely obliterate arts funding,” said Sir Peter.

“It’s not only an investment in the local economy, it’s an investment in local culture. It’s about quality of life in your region...the quality of life filters through into the health of the economy.”

The Arts Council gave about £21.5 million in funding to Norfolk arts organisations in the three years up to March 2015 and £22m to Suffolk for the same period.

However, Sir Peter – perhaps best known to many as the man who introduced Big Brother to British television screens – was equally clear that it was increasingly important that such bodies were not solely reliant on public money and grants.

“It’s very important for arts and cultural organisations to diversify their revenue streams, build a better commercial offer, find new ways of investing... it is tough but the good news is many arts organisations are having some success,” he said.

His visit was to meet leading figures in the field of East Anglian business, finding out how the New Anglia LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership) and New Anglia Cultural Board are working together to help the arts boost the area’s economy and tourism scene – and he said their approach was leading the way nationally.

“They are showing the way to the rest of the country in a very important aspect of the way arts and culture can deliver culturally and economically as well,” he said.

“To my knowledge I do not know of another LEP in the country that has taken this initiative. It is great to see arts, culture and cultural tourism as a priority.”

Do you have a Norwich arts story? Email arts correspondent Emma Knights at emma.knights@archant.co.uk

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