Culture Forum North: creating and sharing knowledge and practice.

Progressing the Forum’s key agendas at the Partners’ meeting 15 December 2016.

As an open network of partnerships between cultural and higher education organisations in the North of England, the Forum acts as a platform for the collation, creation and dissemination of knowledge and models of good practice in partnership working, that provide a useful resource for our sectors. The identification of the areas of need for relevant knowledge on current practice is led by Forum Partners as is the development and delivery of activities that respond to that need.

Workshops at the Forum Partner’s meeting in Rotherham on 15 December 2016 discussed the Forum’s three key agendas: Research; Cultural & Creative Careers; and Public Engagement, in the context of three related questions (appendix 1).

Informed by the discussions, three pieces of work will be undertaken, funded by an Arts Council England Project Initiation grant.

The work will provide data for the creation of a visual, interactive ‘heat map’ of activity across the North; a resource to provide reference material about and to stimulate new partnership activity; to improve and shape current practice; and to inform the development of Forum-led initiatives for the benefit of the cultural and HE sectors regionally and nationally.

Coordinated through the Forum project management team, each of the three strands will be led by an identified Partner and connect with each Partner organisation through a straight-forward, time-efficient data gathering process.

The objective is to complete the work identified within each strand by end May 2016, and to present it at the next Forum symposium in Hull in June 2017.

1. Attracting and developing a diverse cultural workforce

2. Enabling mutually beneficial collaboration between small arts organisations and Higher Education

3. Building an accessible repository of research on the themes of career development, public engagement and HE/cultural partnership itself


1. Attracting and developing a diverse cultural workforce

A project manager will be appointed to lead the strand.

1.1  Collating existing knowledge

Desk research will be undertaken to identify and assemble existing work documenting the value of and practice in developing workforce diversity through HE/cultural partnership.

1.2  Creating new knowledge

Stage one

Stage two

2. Enabling mutually beneficial collaboration between small arts organisations and universities

A project manager will be appointed, who is experienced in the small arts organisation community, to lead the strand.

2.1  Collating existing knowledge

2.2   Creating new knowledge

Stage one   

Stage two

3. Building an accessible repository of research useful to the development of HE/cultural sector partnership

3.1  Collating existing knowledge

A researcher will be appointed to assess the research profile of each university Forum Partner.

3.2  Creating new knowledge


Appendix 1

Progressing the Forum’s three programme themes.

The CFN Partners’ meeting in Rotherham on 15 December included discussion groups on three topics relevant to the Forum’s focal themes of Cultural & Creative Careers, Public Engagement and Civic Impact and Research.

Cultural & Creative Careers: more doing

How can the cultural and HE sectors work together to help build a stronger, more skilled and more diverse cultural workforce, across the many roles making up a cultural organisation, that retains talent in the North; that represents the audiences we seek to attract; that influences the stakeholders whose support we want; that is better for business?

 Public engagement & place-making: the voice and value of smaller arts organisations

How can the potential and collective perspectives and expertise of the small-scale sector across multiple artforms be supported through HE partnership, as a vital and characteristic part of the northern arts ecology?

 Research: making a joined-up case for public investment

How can we generate the evidence and arguments for the ways in which partnerships, as a vehicle for applying, translating and mediating arts and humanities research, are transforming the arts and cultural sectors? Providing aggregated testimony and data beyond individual case studies would put us in a stronger position to make a joined-up case for public investment.

See below for a summary of the conversations and the recommended action that informs the three commissions summarised above.


Organisations represented at the meeting: –

ADEPT; Beam,  Wakefield; The Bluecoat, Liverpool; Cast, Doncaster; Corridor8, North; East Street Arts, Leeds; Freedom Studios, Bradford; Leeds International Piano Competition; Jazz North, Doncaster; Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool; Opera North, Leeds; ROAR, Rotherham; Rotherham MBC; Set The Controls, Leeds; South Asian Arts UK, Leeds; The Tetley, Leeds; UNNA WAY / KIN, Huddersfield; Yorks. Sculpture Park, Wakefield; YVAN, Yorkshire.

University of Huddersfield; University of Leeds; Leeds Beckett University; University of Liverpool; Liverpool John Moores University; University of Newcastle


Summary of the discussion: – Cultural & Creative Careers: more doing

How can the cultural and HE sectors work together to help build a stronger, more skilled and more diverse cultural workforce that retains talent in the North; represents the audiences we seek to attract; influences the stakeholders whose support we want; that is better for business?

Participants: – Rodolfo Barradas; Mary Cloake; Sarah Clough; Belinda Eldridge; Sarah Fisher; Andrew Fryer; Steve Manthorp; Alice Parsons; Lesley Patrick; Ann Rutherford; Mel Whewell;

The discussion, one of the Forum’s three workshops on the day, aimed to build on the perspectives emerging from the first conversation on the topic, held at BALTIC Gateshead on 23 November ’15, with the objective of: –

A quick summary

There is a timely synergy between the ambitions and commitments of the arts sector to increase resilience and productivity through diversity in programme, audience, governance and practitioners, and the aims of universities to widening participation in higher education, the expectations of the Teaching Excellence Framework and student and graduate need for employment.

The conversation highlighted a shared interest in ensuring that teaching programmes respond to the changing skills needs of the cultural sector and that arts organisations are equipped to maximise the potential of the students and graduates they host and employ.

The discussion identified three key areas in which partnership activity, supported by the Culture Forum North framework, could support the delivery of these ambitions.

  1. Positive targeting of a diverse potential workforce pre-, during and post-graduation
  2. Building on and strengthening the routes through which students and new graduates from diverse academic backgrounds acquire appropriate skills
  3. Enabling a broad spectrum of arts organisations to engage in developing the skills of the next generation of arts practitioners

One: positive targeting of a diverse workforce

Influencing change in student and workforce diversity requires positive action and targeted initiatives. There are multiple programmes in arts organisations specifically designed to achieve this, focusing on increasing, for example, those from diverse socio-economic, cultural and educational backgrounds.

Examples from participants in the discussion group included: –

These case studies would provide valuable insights and learning for practicing and teaching organisations; for funders and stakeholders; and for those seeking a career in the arts. They would provide a foundation from which to identify areas of common interest and for developing shared programmes with broader sector and geographical reach

We don’t have enough information about

what they are, where they are and what they achieve.

The Forum seeks to undertake an audit of its membership and wider sector to identify: –

Using the data to create a knowledge ‘heat map’, members of the Forum will consider the potential of expanding existing programmes beyond their current location and developing new collaborative initiatives to respond to identified opportunities

Two: broadening and strengthening the right kind of employability skills

Students need a breadth of skill and experience that enables them to secure work quickly after graduation.

Arts organisations are receiving job applications that suggest a significant number of new graduates, including emerging artists, don’t understand how arts organisations work; the diversity of roles and how they connect internally and externally; and how an organisation might fit with their artistic ambition.  For individual artists, there are few opportunities to acquire the skills needed when setting up independently.

To broaden workforce diversity, positive awareness of the arts as a career needs to be increased across the academic spectrum, not just amongst arts graduates. And to increase access, positions need to be paid. Some arts organisations are becoming increasingly reliant on trading, hence seek a broader skills base including commerce and entrepreneurship; and artists are expected to broaden engagement into areas such as public engagement and education.

Many universities offer industry-linked programmes as part of undergraduate study or immediately following graduation, and several arts organisations have bespoke training programmes designed to develop work-place skills for new graduates. For example: –

We need a better collective understanding about what programmes exist, who delivers them and what the impact is. Such information would enable shared learning and a collaborative approach to developing sector-wide, resource-efficient initiatives accessible to arts organisations diverse in scale and geography

The Forum seeks to undertake an audit of its membership and the wider sector to identify: –

Three: increasing access for arts organisations to engage with skills development

Smaller arts organisations may not have the resources to design, recruit, administer and manage student placement/internship programmes independently, yet the potential value of such opportunities to students and practitioners is significant.

It is important that work experience, placements and internships provide students and graduates with meaningful experience that increases employability and delivers benefit to the host arts organisation.

For the arts organisation, developing an appropriate framework and recruiting and monitoring results is time consuming.

We need a better collective understanding about the range and structure of such programmes in arts organisations, the profile of host organisations and the benefits derived.

Such information would enable organisations to refine and develop what they do; to connect with colleagues for advice; and would inform the development of collaborative activity to fill the gaps.

The Forum seeks to undertake and audit of its membership and the wider sector to identify: –

To increase the diversity of arts organisations able to host under- and post-graduate students, particularly small organisations, the Forum will explore the potential for developing a ‘tool-kit’ comprising for example placement/internship structures, review frameworks, recruitment channels. This may also include a centralised repository for the promotion and administration of placement/internship opportunities.

Proposed action plan

Short-term: by end March 2017

With the aim of gathering data to inform the creation of a Cultural & Creative Careers ‘heat map’ of the North, it is proposed that two pieces of work are commissioned: –

Medium term:

With the aim of enabling a more diverse workforce in the arts: –


Summary of the discussion: –
How can smaller-scale and/or artist-led organizations across the North work in partnership with Higher Education providers, and what’s in it for everyone?

Participants: Tavienne Bridgwater; Charlotte Cullen; Adrian Friedli; Polly Hamilton; Kerry Harker; Lesley Jackson; Steve Rogers; Zoe Sawyer; Steve Swindells; Lauren Velvick; Keranjeet Kaur Kaur Virdee; David Ward; Kate Watson.

The discussion, one of the Forum’s three workshops on the day, was the first group conversation prompted by a response written by Kerry Harker to CFN’s launch event in Leeds in March 2016. A provocation on the general absence of smaller organisations, and those which are artist-led, from such high-level strategic conversations, was circulated to the group in advance to inform the day’s discussion.

A quick summary

The discussion revealed that attempting to draw together a group of ‘small’ organisations immediately highlighted variations in the scale and capacities of participants, and differing levels of previous engagement with the HE sector. Some organisations have been working on ‘live’ projects in partnership with HE for some time, whilst the experiences of others ranged from never having engaged, to having engaged periodically (for example, Beam have had representatives from HE as Board members in the past, but have no engagement at present). But participants in this conversation had widely differing levels of experience, and some were in Rotherham to engage with the idea of HE partnership for the first time.

Invitees to this discussion were originally drawn from the visual arts sector, but the conversation on the day was strengthened by input from those active in the performing arts, and in the role of arts and culture within the work of local authorities.

It was interesting to note that of the participants, only one was officially wearing the HE ‘hat’ so to speak, partly because that individual is already closely involved with several small-scale arts organisations/initiatives and has been responsible for initiating these in the past – does this indicate more interest in engagement and partnership with small-scale organisations from within such organisations themselves? Are current HE partnerships focused more heavily on institutional-level understanding between large-scale organisations, and at senior management level? Further research may be needed on how HE view the potential of partnership with smaller organisations, and what the barriers to this might be from their perspective.

This is interesting in light of some of the findings of the AHRC Cultural Value Project (2012-15) which highlighted the importance of smaller organisations to place making and people-led regeneration, in its final report published in 2016. Could the place making debate offer a more immediate focus to ongoing discussion between HE and small-scale arts/culture sector?

Some key issues highlighted during the discussion:

Action plan

  1. The absence of a ‘heat map’ of current/previous examples of engagement between HE and small-scale arts/culture organisations, and concurrent mapping of any research material generated, needs to be addressed. Can we think about CFN commissioning this research?
  2. Evaluation of this may lead to an approach for funding to undertake joint programming as research, but crucially in order to garner support from small-scale organisations this will need to specifically address identified issues of acute relevance, and not be seen to originate only from the HE side of the table.
  3. Whilst the ‘heat map’ research is ongoing, can we undertake more detailed research with participants than was possible through this initial round-table, to identify priority issues of high relevance in order to better formulate a shared ‘voice’ of the small-scale sector and its current challenges?
  4. Reconnecting with existing networks (e.g. YVAN) to identify existing research/conversations in this area, mapping the research terrain and avoiding duplication


Summary of the discussion: making a joined-up case for public investment

How can we generate the evidence and arguments for the ways in which partnerships, as a vehicle for applying, translating and mediating arts and humanities research, are transforming the arts and cultural sectors? Providing aggregated testimony and data beyond individual case studies would put us in a stronger position to make a joined-up case for public investment.

At the launch of Culture Forum North in May 2016, Prof. Andrew Thompson (interim chief executive, AHRC) laid down a challenge – that CFN was well-placed to examine the impact of University/Arts partnerships on the resilience of the sector.

A quick summary

The discussions evolved around two main areas: –

1. Generation of research

A request to AHRC for further information about the challenge laid down by Prof Thompson did not receive a response, suggesting that there is unlikely to be a specific fund or call that the Forum can apply to. Consideration is therefore to be given to whether a bid is submitted to the AHRC in response mode (i.e. to their open programme) led by a University member with CFN as a partner.

The question is, who does that serve?

  1. Accessing and disseminating research: responding to current challenges

Action Plan

Stage one: –

  1. Commission a realistic and manageable audit, in the context of the challenges summarised above, of relevant research currently available in the public domain.
  2. Request one piece of research relevant/helpful to the sector from each University Forum member.
  3. Draft an abstract of each piece, in language accessible to the non-academic audience and cultural practitioners
  4. Make available and promote the abstract and full piece through the Forum website (if possible).

Stage two: –

  1. Identify a small cohort of researchers, representing the Forum HE membership, who would lead a bid to the AHRC on the impact of University/Arts partnerships.
  2. Consider the position of CFN in relation to the new AHRC Creative Economy call when it becomes available.

Proposed research audit brief:


Tasks: stage one



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