Tim Joss, Chief Executive and Founder, Aesop

(Excerpt taken from ‘Experimental Culture: A horizon scan for the arts and culture sector’ – commissioned by Arts Council England from Nesta) 

There’s this on the Arts Council England website: ‘We believe that great art and culture … makes life better.’ Others also make life better: the NHS, schoolteachers, local community volunteers and international aid charities. It’s time for bridge-building which connects arts and culture with these other sectors.

Arts and cultural organisations can take the lead – bringing their skills to the table and drawing on the growth of co-design and co-production and using new approaches to public engagement. Arts and cultural experiences have a unique and powerful set of ‘active ingredients’ which can improve and transform people’s and communities’ lives. But first, we need honest appraisals of where we are now.

Take health: a 2017 report concluded that ‘the United Kingdom is still very far from realising more than a small modicum of the potential contribution of the arts to health and wellbeing.’ Other sectors expect to and are able to provide more robust evidence. Public funding pressure, scrutiny and accountability
means faith in the benefits of the arts is no longer enough. To chart our impact and the value created, the arts and culture sector needs its own outcomes frameworks. In other sectors these are well developed .Artistic/cultural outcomes frameworks are essential for valuing culture, making sure artistic programmes are not just viewed through the lenses of other sectors.

For example, Aesop’s programme Dance to Health addresses a major health challenge, opening up new opportunities for creative practice, increasing volunteering amongst older people and growing local cultural activity. A £2.3 million early-stage roll-out is under way. We have also developed an evaluation framework for arts in health programmes, but frameworks alone will not be sufficient. Training and capacity building will be essential in laying foundations for the growth of this agenda in coming years.