Somerset Arts – big change or small crumbs

Arts and culture across Somerset are set to benefit from the creation of a Somerset Cultural Strategy.” So the headline trumpets on the latest press release form the new administration at Somerset County Council (SCC). This follows a £30,000 grant awarded by Arts Council England.

Over the next year, SCC aim to produce a five-year cultural strategy for the new unitary Somerset Council. This will which come into being in April 2023. So to be clear the £30,000 isn’t to spend on the arts as such. It is to spend on creating a Somerset Cultural Strategy for the arts.

Community priorities will be included. Presumably following a variety of consultations to find out what they are. The idea of course is to “ensure arts and culture is embedded at the heart of the new authority’s strategic plans.”

All good in theory. In addition, £5,000 has also been committed towards the strategy from each of the councils in Somerset. That’s Mendip District Council, Sedgemoor District Council, SCC, Somerset West & Taunton Council and South Somerset District Council.

All in all a total of £55,000 to spend creating a strategy. Cllr Federica Smith-Roberts, SCC’s Executive Lead Member for Communities, puts her finger on the button: “Somerset is blessed with vibrant artists and superb arts organisations, but it remains the case that while talent is everywhere opportunity is not.”

So where will opportunity come from? Not from the £55,000 committed here. The Somerset Cultural Strategy will be prepared for the new council. However then it is up to that council to decide if it should be adopted. Then and only then will funding opportunities be pursued.

The Leveller® says:

Looking for grants and funding for the arts will undoubtedly be welcome. But some of that funding should come from the new council. In 2010 Somerset lost all funding for cultural and arts from the county council budget. There surely needs to be a recognition that culture and arts are too important for them not to get funding at local authority level. It is not just a matter of going cap in hand looking for grants from elsewhere. What is missing is a commitment today, not to a strategy, but future funding for the arts. From our council’s budget.


  • Andrew, MDC had committed £100,000 to the arts, significantly more than SCC (which is just parsing central government money).

    These funds have been used twofold 1. To unlock more funding and 2 to support arts and the creative industries- it’s really disappointing to find no mention of this in your report. It is as if we were already devaluing the districts contribution before the cease to exist

    • Disappointing perhaps, but hardly surprising. The item is based on a press release from SCC and is about the future, not the past. What good works Mendip, SSDC and the rest have done in the past is not relevant to this because they will cease to exist in a year. What is of much greater import, is surely what will happen in April next year when the new council takes over. Will funding for the arts be prominent or not? Will the funds Mendip and SSDC in particular spend supporting the arts be replicated. So no disrespect to the work Mendip have done historically. Of course the PR from SCC (in which the Leader of Mendip is now a prominent member) could have mentioned this, but didn’t – which probably tells you something.

  • Creative industries – ranging from local radio and regional television stations to amateur dramatic societies and choirs – generate cultural activities. Some of these may need a bit of pump priming finance to broaden and deepen their reach into local communities, whether at focal points such as Minehead, Wellington, Yeovil, Taunton or Wells or more widely dispersed among the villages. There is no doubt that such activities lift the spirits and contribute greatly to wellbeing.

    As well as the performing arts, the creative industries sector also includes publishing of books and newspapers, libraries museums & historic houses, advertising, computer software development, architecture and crafts: activities that thrive on face-to-face contacts

    Some funding will be needed to support day to day running, some will be capital spending to create permanent facilities. Somerset lacks a concert hall to accommodate national or international attractions and an exhibition & conference centre for major events.

  • Well said Andrew!

    The Arts are such an important part of all our lives. We are blessed with some of the best artists and performers here in Somerset, the new Council MUST support them for the benefit of us all!

    Music should be given a role in every school, it is well known that music stimulates learning from an early age.

    The Arts, whether live, or broadcast over radio, television, or other media, also enhances the the lives of the elderly and less mobile members of our communities, both large and small.

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