Today (22 July 2021) sees the launch of two exciting pieces of research that highlight the value of the West Midlands Arts and Cultural sector, including the region’s first interactive Cultural Infrastructure Map and Audience Profiler, aimed at providing information to help attract investment and audiences.
The past year has shown us the power of collaboration and having a connected narrative for the region. It also highlighted areas for development around data, understanding and analysing it, making better decisions and ensuring equity for all.
These pieces of research give us significant insight into the lived experiences of communities within the West Midlands. This data is an invaluable resource for anyone who is interested in the ways in which culture and creativity play a part of our regional identity. At Culture Central, we are excited about the potential that this research provides, and the opportunity that we have to put the insights from this data into practice, working as a collective to ensure that we can all create opportunities through culture for the places and people of the West Midlands.
With Coventry UK City of Culture 2021 launched in May and the start of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games cultural programme less than a year away, 2021 is a key moment for the West Midlands arts and cultural sector. The Audience Research and Map will help the sector plan for investment and future growth, raise the profile of the region and its cultural and creative sector, and create new partnerships and collaborations.
This partnership project between The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, Coventry City of Culture Trust, Birmingham City Council, West Midlands Growth Company, Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, Culture Central, Arts Council England and Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has produced this fantastic work, highlighting the value of the arts and cultural sector in the region.
Consultants Indigo, Baker Richards and Hatch Associates have created two unique regional analyses and tools that will be of significant benefit to the sector, helping us to understand the people and places of the West Midlands and how to shape and develop our cultural offer as organisations and as a region together.
The research tells us a complex story about culture in the region. Whilst the sector (pre-Covid) is one of the highest performing with a growing workforce, it also shows that investment is often focussed towards places with established cultural infrastructure. In contrast to this growth, the West Midlands has a lower level of cultural engagement than the national average, strongly correlated with educational achievement levels and socio-demographic profiles, whilst the areas with a highly culturally engaged population choose to attend elsewhere, rather than looking to the West Midlands as their home for arts and culture.
Anthony Ruck, Assistant Director – Strategy & Policy, Culture Central said:
“Research and data aren’t the first things that come to mind when we think about our work as cultural organisations, but they offer us an opportunity to understand and think about peoples’ lived experiences of culture and creativity and identify the changes we want to see in the sector and the region.
We know that the cultural sector is unequal, both for the people that work in it and the people that experience it. These two pieces of research provide us with the insights that we need to drive change within the sector.”
Knowing where we now stand, we at Culture Central want to start the conversation about what the cultural sector can collectively do for the people and places of the region, and how we can work as a collective and a collective voice to ensure that everyone benefits across the West Midlands.
Peter Knott, Midlands Area director for Arts Council England, said:
“We’re really pleased to see the region’s first Cultural Infrastructure map providing us with detailed insight and helping us explore opportunities for place-based work including major events like Coventry City of Culture and Birmingham Commonwealth Games.
“Investing in creativity can have a powerful effect on improving wellbeing, transforming the places where we work, live and study, developing communities and unlocking the economic potential for towns and cities throughout the country – and we look forward to the results of this report bringing benefits to creative individuals, organisations and communities across the WMCA.”
We are keen for the region’s Cultural Sector to make the most of these two useful tools and research to help drive their strategy and planning, and will be holding two events. The first on the 27th July 2021, 10-12.30, will focus on the headline data and the practicalities of using the tools. Sign up for this event here.
In September, we will be hosting an event to explore what the data and research means for us as a region, what provocations and challenges does it provide and how does this inform our collective vision for culture. More details on this to follow soon.
The region’s first Cultural Infrastructure map was created by Hatch, We Made That and Tom Fleming Creative Consultancy. These consultants also produced the ‘West Midlands Cultural Sector Analysis’ report which looks at the economic and social value generated by the arts and cultural sector. They also did a separate report which looked at cultural and creative clusters in North Birmingham, Digbeth in Birmingham, Leamington Spa and Dudley in more detail.
The report ‘Identity | Confidence | Connection Rethinking audience engagement for arts & culture in the West Midlands’ was created by Indigo-Ltd, BakerRichards, Mel Larsen and Pam Jarvis, who were commissioned in Sept 2020 to conduct an audience analysis, mapping and strategy project for the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), Birmingham City Council (BCC) Birmingham 2022 Organising Committee of the Commonwealth Games (OC), West Midlands Growth Company, Culture Central, Coventry City of Culture (CoC) and Greater Birmingham & Solihull LEP (GBSLEP).
The research stakeholders are planning to organise events during the summer to share the findings with the arts and cultural sector. Both research projects received funding from Arts Council England and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).