It is estimated that rural communities, including the professional artists, designers, new media and creative producers and entrepreneurs based in rural areas, are now contributing in the region of £1 billion p.a. to the Creative Economy.
Rural communities and farmers also contribute to the national economy by generating new sources of sustainable energy and renewables, safe food, sustainable fibres for housing, clothing and textiles, and providing key services and resources enhancing public health and social well being, and supporting outdoor recreational sports and cultural/eco tourism. Rural communities have responded readily to Government and EU reform agendas aimed at restructuring the rural economy and the farming industry, and promoting environmental sustainability. Yet despite these significant achievements the rural sector remains disadvantaged in terms of accessing arts funding and tapping into the investment opportunities currently available nationally for community and economic regeneration.
After several years of lobbying for example the Rural Cultural Forum has only managed to secure about £50,000* of Arts Council funding for rural cultural regeneration at time when urban communities have been receiving hundreds of millions of pounds from Arts Council and Arts Lottery Fund sources for urban regeneration. Rural leaders are increasingly concerned that their creative and imaginative and culture is being ignored by the urban-focused cultural policy and arts funding systems, and rural communities would like to see their contribution to the Creative Economy taken more seriously, and to have a voice in setting the agenda for national arts funding and cultural policy. In a bid to achieve this they have established the Rural Cultural Forum as a cultural advocacy and arts development agency for all rural communities. The Littoral Trust is now working with the Rural Cultural Forum to implement the recommendations contained in the Creative Rural Communities report (June 2010), and to develop a coherent and sustainable cultural investment strategy for all rural communities in England. This is the main thrust of the Rural Shift initiative.
After the 2001 Foot and Mouth disaster and implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) economic reform measures, rural and farming communities were required by Government to radically restructure their industry, and to take on a raft of environmental and social responsibilities. Rural economic regeneration and environmental sustainability became key priorities, and rural communities were encouraged to use their creative, entrepreneurial and imaginative resources in support of the national initiatives. Citing the precedents set by urban cultural industries, and the role played by creative entrepreneurs and the arts and media in promoting urban economic regeneration, the Rural Cultural Forum in 2004 requested the Arts Council and the Department of Culture for support in accessing Arts Lottery funding for the development of an equivalent arts and rural regeneration initiative.
Addressing the arts funding and policy imbalance
To date the Rural Cultural Forum has not been able to access significant arts funding for rural cultural regeneration. This is arguably a consequence of ‘rural cultural invisibility’, highlighted recently by the failure of rural communities to be allowed to apply to any of the regeneration funding created by the last Government - the Urban Cultural Programme (Arts Council/Millennium Commission, 2004 -06), the UK City of Culture programme (2009), and the UK Legacy Trust 2012 Cultural Olympiad fund (2010). This appears to confirm rural perceptions of the existence of an urban bias in current cultural criteria, and the total lack of understanding of the creative potential and cultural entitlement of rural communities.
The Rural Cultural Forum also counts the Fish boat communities (left) and the Roma/Gypsy/Traveller communities (right) as part of its wider rural or non-urban cultural communities
An arts and cultural response to radical change in the rural sector
The ‘Rural Shift' initiative, and the associated Rural Cultural Strategy, together form a joint RCF/Littoral Trust campaign aimed at achieving a greater degree of equity for rural communities in the allocation of cultural regeneration funding. The Rural Shift: the arts and rural regeneration programme ( 2005 - 15) also constitutes a response to the new challenges and employment opportunities opening up for artists in rural areas in the context of the new agricultural and rural policy initiatives in the wake of CAP reform
The initiative includes a survey of the new kinds of projects (the New Rural Arts) being developed by artists in response to social, economic and cultural issues in the rural sector, such as: disappearance of smaller family-based agricultural communities; food sovereignty; concern regarding GMOs and agri-biotechnology; farm animal welfare; human/animal pandemics; depletion of fisheries and seaport communities. Other factors are development of the Creative Rural Economy; coping with agricultural change; combating the loss of regional cultural identity and social cohesion. The changes taking place in rural areas are exacerbated by perceived climate change, and the impact of WTO agendas on vulnerable agrarian communities worldwide. Farmers and rural artists and communities are possessed of considerable creative skills and cultural capital which could be deployed to the national benefit given increased investment and research. This would entail recognition of the hitherto overlooked aesthetic dimension underpinning EU agricultural and rural development policy. All of these factors arguably point to the need for a strategic response on the part of the mainstream arts and cultural policy sector.
*It is acknowledged that rural arts, rural touring and other arts and cultural activities in rural areas have been funded in other ways by the Arts Council, via the National Arts Lottery and also by LEADER+/RDPE.
LITTORAL is a non-profit arts trust which promotes new
creative partnerships, critical art practices and cultural
strategies in response to issues about social, environmental
and economic change.
LITTORAL 42, Lodge Mill Lane, Turn Village, Ramsbottom
BL0 0RW, UK
Tel/Fax: +44 (0)1706 827 961
Reg. Charitable Trust No. 1002365;
Pivate Limited Company No. 2526443
Creative Rural Economy Conference Report
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Creative Rural Economy Document
New Rural Arts
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