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£20m funding boost for region's arts, culture and heritage

Published: Thursday 07 Mar 2024

Significant and much-needed financial support is to be provided to the region’s arts, cultural and heritage organisations thanks to £20 million of funding from the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).

In his Budget on Wednesday, 6 March, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced £10 million of new government money would be handed to the WMCA to continue the work it is doing to support organisations right across the West Midlands to enhance the positive role arts, culture and heritage can play in our daily lives.

This significant investment will be used to support the region’s cultural and heritage capital infrastructure.

It doubles the amount of money the WMCA is now pumping into arts, culture and heritage, recognising its significant economic and social value to the region and against the backdrop of a squeeze on other public sector funding that many organisations rely on to survive.

This includes £6 million from the Commonwealth Games underspend, additional funding for skills development, and money from Arts Council England.

A further £4 million has come to the region as a direct result of the trailblazing ‘deeper devolution deal’ agreed between the West Midlands and Government one year ago.

The Mayor said: “The benefits that our vibrant arts, cultural and heritage scene brings to our region should not be underestimated - not least in providing jobs for nearly 100,000 people. It also attracts tens of thousands more visitors to our region from across the UK and beyond, eager to enjoy unique social gatherings and shows. We know that coming together in this way is incredibly important to people’s good health and general wellbeing.

“But after weathering the storm of Covid, many organisations in this vital sector are now fearful of being held back as the existing funding streams they rely on either slow down or in some cases start to dry up completely.

“That’s why two months ago I went to see the Chancellor to personally lobby for more cash to recognise the importance of our cultural sector to both local people and the regional economy. The Chancellor heard my calls and has made £10m available in his Budget, which we will now double to £20m using our own funding.

“This will give our cultural sector a timely shot in the arm – not least in the wake of Birmingham City Council’s cuts - as we continue to build on the successful legacy generated by the Commonwealth Games. It also means we can put more money directly into the hands of those cultural organisations, big and small, that enrich our lives on a daily basis.

“Our goal now is to get this funding out to frontline organisations as quickly as possible so it can provide maximum impact and help protect our cultural sector.”

Much-needed funding for culture and heritage from the WMCA is already supporting live events across the region, with £1.5m to ensure this year’s Black Country Festival, Coventry Govida Festival and Birmingham Weekender can take place.

It is helping to protect under-threat heritage buildings including the historic Golden Lion in Cannon Hill Park in Birmingham, and to help grassroots organisations provide new creative opportunities for thousands of children and young people to improve their health and wellbeing and teach them new skills.

Local authorities will share £2 million to directly support hyper local activity within their communities and cultural organisations, and money is also going into help organisations grow and to provide the region’s first business and networking support for its army of almost 10,000 freelancers, many of whom work largely on short-term contracts.

A further £2.2 million is providing free skills bootcamps in immersive arts, digital, social media and content creation, music, AI, and venue technicians to help plug skills gaps. Grants are available to help establish international cultural and artistic partnerships.

As part of support for the wider night time economy, the WMCA has also taken decisive action to protect some of the region’s oldest and most loved locals in response to calls from residents following the demolition of The Crooked House and a spate of pub closures right across the West Midlands. The WMCA’s popular List Your Local campaign has led to the first five pubs nominated by the public already submitted for Grade II Listed status.

Skinder Hundal, chair of the West Midlands Cultural Leadership Board, said: “The West Midlands’ cultural and creative sector is one of our biggest success stories and this significant investment from the WMCA and Government will help to secure our international reputation and place on the global stage.

“The Cultural Leadership Board is committed to standing alongside our regions’ creatives, colleagues, agencies, cultural partners to advocate for thoughtful and strategic economic policies which have the power to improve lives, improve opportunities, improve health and wellbeing, and develop skills and enterprise.

“Our sector is resilient, evolving and focused on a future in which our exceptional talent, with the right support, will continue to thrive in a region which is home to the world’s most exciting innovators and storytellers.”

Alex Claridge, the WMCA’s Night Time Economy Advisor, said: “Throughout my tenure, I’ve insisted culture, arts, heritage and hospitality – which are heavily represented in the NTE – are not luxuries but real cornerstones of this region that require decisive support.

“Whilst the work is never finished and we know we need to keep going, this new funding will allow us to make significant impact across the region and, perhaps as importantly, I hope sends a message to the brilliance in this region that we see you and will do anything we can to stand by you. Let the message be clear; culture, creativity and arts are a non-negotiable for me, it is and always will be in our DNA.”

Cllr Patrick Harley, WMCA portfolio lead for culture and digital, and leader of Dudley Council, said: “The success of the region in hosting the 2022 Commonwealth Games and the funding that is coming here as a result means we’re well placed to support the people and organisations working in arts, culture and heritage to help make the West Midlands an even more attractive destination for residents, visitors and investors.

"We know that locally we want to deliver the best Black Country Festival to date this summer and build on our history of successful community events. Combined with the stronger relationships with cultural funding bodies emerging from our deeper devolution deal, we will use all available resources to continue to widen their impact.”

There was further good news for the region in the Budget with the Chancellor also announcing £5 million for the WMCA to build on the success of the drive to grow business investment and tourism on the back of the Commonwealth Games.

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