Sitting watching the rain pouring down outside, I am hoping that not too many big lunches ended up soggy and thinking about the festival season and our other cultural services. The St Albans festival is looking very promising this year and, weather permitting, will have some great events. We have been very fortunate to have a good team organising the event and as always are building it around the Albantide pilgrimage and stopping in time for the International Organ Festival to take over with its classical programme.
It’s these kind of events that can showcase what is possible in a place, building on the year round provision to open up new audiences and developing new opportunities. Cultural expression of all types from football to theatres, libraries and museums is what makes places unique and is essential in building linkages between people and within neighbourhoods. However concern continues within the public sector as to how long we will be able to go on with a lot of this kind of work. We’ve managed to keep money aside so far and I am sure that politicians will be planning to do what they can when deciding on future budgets but there’s always that pressure on cultural funding from elsewhere.
I have therefore been wondering about how best to address the problem of devising a sound foundation for culture and heritage looking forward. There are many options, none of them mutually exclusive. For example, we could try to build a philanthropic base of donation and sponsorship, we could look at an social enterprise or a trust, or we could look at continuing with a mixed economy of public, private and civil provision.
However what is clear to me is that we need to have a far more conscious way of accounting for, planning and leading culture and heritage provision which engages the wide range of players in the area. I have concluded that we need to have something which is much more effective than a bog-standard cultural strategy. It needs to be something much more akin to a business plan, where each activity and its outcomes are accounted for and have a specific budget line, no matter what their relationship to the public sector, setting out where funding is coming from and what will be achieved from it.
My aim is that in the coming months we will be able to pull such a strategy together, engage all of the various players in the District and set out a clear way forward which will enable a stronger local cultural sector to emerge. Now this may seem a rather local focus in a blog which is usually looking to the wider local government stage, but I think that such an approach could form the roots of a re-enlivened, more optimistic and frankly less wasteful cultural sector which will use such transparency to show just why it might be important.