What Culture and the Arts mean for South Yorkshire

Kate Brindley, Project Director for arts, culture and heritage for South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority, takes a look at how the sector is performing in South Yorkshire.

“Culture is central to the human experience, with Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stating that “everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”

According to research from the Arts Council England and the Creative Industries Federation in 2019, the arts and culture sector contributed more than £10.8bn gross value added (GVA) to the UK economy – more than agriculture. Culture pays £2.8bn in taxes – that’s £5 for every £1 of public investment. For every job supported by arts and culture, an additional 1.65 jobs are supported in the wider economy. The wider creative industries, as defined by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, are the fastest growing part of the UK economy.

Culture plays a fundamental role in the dynamism of every economy, through commercial activities, and improving education and well-being across communities. This is no different in South Yorkshire, where culture is a priority for our region as we hope to build on the potential of our outstanding natural, heritage, cultural and artistic assets and people.

South Yorkshire brings together strong and proud communities across both urban and rural settings. Our communities have a deep sense of place and identity. We are a region that is proud to play a role on the global stage. We host numerous local, national and international events every year, contributing hugely to our residents’ well-being and to the vibrancy of the region’s towns and city centre. But to realise our full potential we need a transformational programme of investment in our cultural assets and the creativity of our businesses and people. This is a key priority in our regional Strategic Economic Plan.

The most successful cities and regions have a thriving culture, arts and heritage sector because it attracts and retains skilled people, it fosters creative skills and innovation and builds community, identity and wellbeing – as well as being an economic activity in its own right.

Here at South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority, we are helping to develop a localised understanding of this unique sector, identifying its assets, and engaging with it to understand where value can be added.

Impact of Covid 19

The decline in the country’s economy is well publicised – with an overall decline in GDP of 10% in 2020/1. However, the plight of the arts/culture/entertainment sectors is much worse than this.

At the height of lockdown these sectors fell by 60% and with 55% of jobs being furloughed, we know many jobs and livelihoods were lost completely as a result- with long lasting effects to individuals and the very fabric of our sector.

There has been a huge loss of output across many sectors with activity ceasing or slowing down from artistic production to audience engagement to community involvement – the effects of which I suspect will take us much longer to understand and assimilate.

Despite the support of central, regional and local government in a number of different ways over the last 18 months (Culture Recovery Fund, Furlough, Self-employment income support, grants for businesses and freelances) many organisations and individuals remain in a fragile or precarious position.  We also know that, due to the way the sector operates, many freelances or sole traders received next to no support which has been devastating  – our sectors relies so much on those creative individuals who have been at the sharp end of this slow down.

We know that the arts and cultural sector are no way near back to pre-covid levels –there remains a nervousness with audiences returning to many events and venues, resulting in a continued loss of income, less money in the system to commission/invest in new work and less capacity to work with communities.

In response to this situation, Dan Jarvis, Mayor of South Yorkshire, made funding available for arts, culture and heritage sector worth £1m from South Yorkshire’s Additional Restrictions Grant.  This is accessible through the four Local Authorities in South Yorkshire.  It will be supporting creatives and organisations from across the region to work with their communities and high streets over the coming months and will provide much needed immediate support for freelancers and artists.

Despite this difficult picture we have also witnessed amazing resilience and innovation in the culture and creative sector – with organisations adapting and developing new offers digitally and deepening relationships with audiences, including investing in work with local communities.

Art, culture and music are powerful vehicles to recovery and renewal, contributing to healthy and sustainable communities and vibrant city and town centres. So now more than ever, we need to recognise the huge contributions that these sectors make to our economy and our quality of life and, despite the challenges, find creative ways to actively strengthen our creative talent and organisations.“

For more information visit www.southyorkshire-ca.gov.uk or speak with your local council about the Culture Recovery Fund.