Sheffield city leaders join forces to demand more Government funding for culture

An influential group of leaders say arts and culture could be used to transform Sheffield – but only if the city’s ‘offer’ becomes ‘bigger, bolder and better’.

By Dan Hayes
Thursday, 12th September 2019, 1:11 pm
Updated Friday, 13th September 2019, 1:38 pm
Owain Gwynn as Richard Parker the Tiger and Hiran Abeysekera as Pi in Life of Pi
Owain Gwynn as Richard Parker the Tiger and Hiran Abeysekera as Pi in Life of Pi

The ‘call to arms’ was issued by the Sheffield Culture Collective, a new group of major players from the world of politics, arts, business and education.

However, in order to be successful, the group say they need more financial assistance from central Government, arguing that with the right support the cultural industries could help both grow the city’s economy and help its communities thrive.

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The newly formed Sheffield Culture Collective. Picture Scott Merrylees.

Speaking at the group’s launch at the Millennium Gallery on Thursday, the new body’s chair, Dame Julie Kenny, who grew up in Hillsborough and Stannington, said they wanted to make it easier for people involved in the cultural industries to do business.

She said: “The Collective is here to challenge our city, our cultural institutions and our funders to be bolder, to be better, to be more confident.

“To articulate what we want and need to thrive and to identify the obstacles we need to remove to allow us to grow bigger.

“We have assembled a cross section of passionate, expert and influential people who have the ability, insights and power to elevate and transform the role of culture in our city.

Kirsty Hamilton wtih one of Leonardo da Vinci's works from the exhibition: A Life in Drawing exhibition at the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield. Pictured is Kirsty Hamilton, the head of programme at Museums Sheffield. Picture: Chris Etchells

“Our job is to make it easier for all those who contribute to the cultural vibrancy in our city.”

As well as Dame Julie Kenny, the group includes members from Sheffield Council, Sheffield Theatres, the Site Gallery, both universities, the NHS and business groups like Sheffield Property Association and Sheffield Digital.

The collective got off the ground thanks to funding from Arts Council England which has now been matched with money from both the private and public sector, but now the Collective want more financial support from central Government.

Dame Kenny added: “To the government, we say: ‘Culture is central to life in Sheffield. Help us realise our potential’.

The Site Gallery in Sheffield.

“Our Council invests time, money and effort supporting many organisations, but local budgets can only stretch so far.

“Funding for culture from central government needs to play a greater role in our city.”

Dame Kenny grew up in Sheffield and is best known for transforming Rotherham’s Wentworth Woodhouse stately home from decaying relic into heritage success story.

She said culture played a ‘wonderful’ role in Sheffield, with the largest theatre complex outside of London, a newly refurbished and expanded contemporary art space at the Site Gallery, and the most visited free attraction in the North of England in the Millennium Gallery.

Park Hill phase four exterior.

Away from the major attractions there are also 19 studio groups, 362 artists with studios, 26 art galleries, 460 bands and artists who rehearse and play across 65 recording studios and 69 venues, not to mention the art made by the diverse communities of the city.

Dame Kenny said that these assets, far from being merely decorative, can be real drivers of economic growth, with cultural industries now accounting for a larger share of national wealth than agriculture.

According to the Creative Industries Federation, in 2016, arts and culture contributed £23bn to the UK economy and paid £2.8bn in tax, equivalent to £5 for every £1 of public investment.

Across the country, more than 137,000 people are directly employed in the cultural industries with a further 226,000 jobs supported in the wider economy as a result.

“This is not about asking about handouts, it is good business for the country,” said Dame Kenny.

“If you want a higher skilled workforce. If you want to attract ambitious entrepreneurs. If you want increased productivity, then investing in culture is essential.

“Why? Because communities that are inspired produce more. We all live healthier and happier lives. The whole economy benefits.”

At the group’s formal launch, the members of the new collective came together with other city leaders, representatives from central Government and members of the public.

Collective members said the group was the first step in bringing the city together around the ‘common denominator’ of arts and culture.

Andrew Snelling, chair of the Sheffield Culture Consortium – an existing group of city arts and leisure figures – said: “Sheffield Culture Consortium members believe that everyone should have the opportunity to take part in culture, in different places and in different ways throughout our city and we look forward to working alongside the Culture Collective as plans develop over coming months.

“Creating a partnership across culture, education, health and well-being and place-making, the Culture Collective will promote and expand the city’s ambition and make this an even more interesting place to live, work and visit.”

And Martin McKervey, chair of the Sheffield Property Association and Collective member, said: “The Sheffield Property Association is delighted to be co-funding this important Culture Collective.

“Supporting cultural life in Sheffield is one of our key priorities because it makes good business sense for those involved in property.

“If we want to attract world-class companies and investment that will create high-value developments and jobs then we need to have the best possible cultural life across the city.

“Sheffield has some amazing individuals and organisations involved in the cultural sector. Our job as a Collective is to help them enjoy even more success and recognition.”