75 years of culture in Norfolk: what was, what is and what will be…
Darren Henley Chief Executive, Arts Council England
- Credit: Courtesy of Johnston Press
The Arts Council is celebrating its 75th birthday and our connection with Norfolk has seen us support a wide range of organisations over the last few decades, from the Norwich Theatre Royal and Norwich Arts Centre, through to Norwich Puppet Theatre and Norfolk and Norwich Festival - one of the UK’s oldest festivals, which can trace its roots right back to 1772!
We’re proud to have supported the festival throughout its more recent history, from its time as Norfolk and Norwich Triennial right through to now – where it has established itself as the East of England’s flagship arts festival and one of the largest multi-artform festivals in the UK.
When we received our first Royal Charter, it was born out of a remarkable decision by Winston Churchill’s wartime government; that culture and creativity would lift spirits and give hope during the darkest days of the conflict. And that is exactly what culture and creativity can do once again as we emerge from the dark days of the pandemic – they can once again lift our spirits, bring our communities together, and give us an essential sense of pride in the places in which we live, work and ‘play’.
Whatever you personally love – be it theatre, festivals, music, museums, galleries, or dance – there really is something for everyone in the huge range of creative work that we help to bring alive in places like Norwich, and more widely across Norfolk.
We’re extremely proud of what the Arts Council has achieved during our first 75 years. With the support of public funding, we have been able to invest in some incredible moments – from the Festival of Britain in 1951 right through to the very moving ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ project that so beautifully commemorated the 100th anniversary of the First World War in 2016.
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When the pandemic hit, we saw all our vibrant venues fall quiet – theatres went dark, galleries and museums emptied, performances were cancelled. It saw us all face a moment like never before in our long history, one that threatened the very existence of the organisations that audiences and artists alike hold so dear.
But the Government stepped in with an unprecedented investment in the shape of the Culture Recovery Fund. Developed by the culture secretary Oliver Dowden, with the support of Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak, this £2 billion injection meant that we could save thousands of cultural organisations across the country and begin to look ahead with a sense of optimism.
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It’s because of this Government investment that we can take this moment to happily reminisce about our history and to celebrate the significant impact of arts and cultural organisations like Norfolk Museums Service, Frozen Light, the National Centre for Writing and Norfolk and Norwich Festival.
But the arts, museums and libraries aren’t just an important part of our history. They’re part of our lives today and tomorrow too. Right now, they’re playing a major part in getting the nation back on track. Across Norfolk and Norwich, we’re seeing how artists and cultural organisations help to create happier lives. And there can be no better reason to invest public money than that.
Five organisations Arts Council England has supported in Norfolk
The ongoing support from the Arts Council means that Frozen Light is able to create striking, bold, accessible multi-sensory theatre for audiences with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) all across the UK. It has enabled us to create five touring productions to date, taking audiences on sensory journeys to places from mystical forests to desolate islands and, as in our production which is about to tour, the not so distant future. With the support of the Culture Recovery Fund and National Lottery Project Grants we were able to move our practice outdoors and create our first ever outdoor show, Night Out In Nature. The Culture Recovery Fund also enabled us to continue to provide work for freelance actors and creatives within the theatre industry, many of whom lost most of their work overnight when the pandemic hit.
Out There Arts
Out There Arts delivers ambitious, innovative work of the highest quality such as the Out There Festival in Great Yarmouth. Out There is the largest circus festival in the UK, free to the general public. Attended by more than 60,000 people, it generates £3.2m for the local economy. The festival returns in 2021 following Culture Recovery Fund support. The Drill House is home to Out There Arts, a National Centre of Outdoor Arts and Circus. This creation space focuses on artistic excellence, talent nurturing and producing work that has a transformational impact on society, positively challenging ideas and inspiring creativity.
Young Norfolk Arts Trust
Young Norfolk Arts Trust (YNAT) is a charity which supports young people to develop their creativity and engage with the creative industries in meaningful and productive ways. Each year it hosts an annual festival which celebrates that creativity and provides valuable opportunities for young people within its collective to programme, curate and promote their own work and that of their peers.
YNAT has received regular funding support from Arts Council England which has enabled it to continue to operate year-round providing training and support for the collective and the artists with whom they work as well as delivering festivals in both 2020 (virtually) and 2021. The Culture Recovery Fund grant in 2021 was the key ingredient in ensuring that YNAT could continue its work throughout the pandemic and support young people at a vital time for their well-being.
National Centre for Writing
The National Centre for Writing, based in the historic Dragon Hall on King Street, is a non-profit organisation which works year-round to support a diverse range of writers and literary translators at all stages of their creative journey through workshops, events, and professional development programmes.
The Culture Recovery Fund has enabled us to continue to support writers at a very difficult time, through commissioning online creative writing courses; providing development funding for local working-class writers as part of our Escalator Talent Development Programme; and employing artists to work with local communities and deliver online public events. It has also enabled us to ensure that the venue is safe and ready to reopen its doors.
Norfolk Museums Service
Norfolk Museums Service runs 10 museums and a study centre across the county. Our aim is to inspire pride in Norfolk’s heritage, preserving and interpreting the county’s material history so that people of all backgrounds and ages can connect with the past. The Culture Recovery Fund was used to underpin operations and helped support NMS in delivering a strong countywide service and critical projects over the short term. Staff adapted and repurposed ways of working to maintain the level of service for our audiences. We transformed our digital output, enabling quality engagement with both existing and new audiences in creative ways.
Norfolk and Norwich Festival
One of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio organisations, Norfolk & Norwich Festival shares exceptional arts experiences across the East of England. Arts Council support has helped us develop exciting multi-artform programming, supported our business planning and helped bring new audiences to our work – delivering on our ambition to make our part of the world a great place to live, work and play.
This year’s Festival was one of the first events in the country after restrictions eased. Supported by the Culture Recovery Fund, we were able to deliver it safely and bring work to some of our most vulnerable communities.