Arts funding is up 90% in the city - here ACE Chief Executive ​Darren Henley​ explains where the money is going and why

Mancunians know that Manchester is a pioneering city with an indomitable spirit, one that knows how to confront a challenge - and how to come together in celebration.

The spectacular Manchester Day Parade in June saw 100,000 people take to the streets to celebrate the city’s diverse communities and cultural identities through music, dance, costume and carnival, all produced by Salford-based Walk the Plank.

There’s nowhere more fiercely competitive – and nowhere more warm and welcoming.

It’s also a city with a history of industry, trade and progress. That urge to make, to build, to create, runs deep. So it’s natural for Manchester, and the Greater Manchester region that surrounds it, to put the creative arts at the heart of plans for its economic future - to want to be the cultural as well as the economic engine of the Northern Powerhouse. 

Nowhere is that more obvious currently than in the hugely exciting Factory development (pictured above). I have watched with mounting anticipation as plans have evolved for this £110 million cultural centre on the old Granada site.

And it’s been important for the Arts Council (ACE), as the national development agency for arts and culture, to support Manchester’s ambition. Which is why we recently agreed a £7 million large capital grant to help Factory come to fruition.

Mif 2017 New Order New Order Liam Gillick 006
New Order perform at Manchester International Festival 2017 - which will benefit from increased ACE investment

We also recently agreed how we will be spending the bulk of our funding for 2018-22, and in particular, the make-up of our National Portfolio of regularly funded organisations which form the backbone of our work across the country. And within this announcement there was news about how the Arts Council will be investing more in Manchester and the wider region in the next few years.

This area already has some important National Portfolio members, including world-famous institutions such as Manchester City Art Galleries, the Royal Exchange, The Lowry in Salford, and Manchester International Festival - which was announced as the operator of the Factory earlier this year - and which will receive increased Portfolio investment from 2018 to help support it in this new role.

Arts funding in Manchester is up 90% - isn't it time we understood its value?

But our funding over the next four years also recognises the value of smaller arts and cultural institutions - and more diverse venues and arts practitioners.

This city region has incredible creativity within every one of its many diverse communities. To tap into that diversity, we need a more inclusive arts and cultural sector that reaches across all barriers, including those determined by socio-economic factors. Diversity must not be an added extra. It should be central to everything we do in the arts.

So I’m thrilled that we are adding some new Manchester organisations to the portfolio - Manchester Jewish Museum, Venture Arts, which is doing fantastic work supporting learning disabled artists, Z-arts in Hulme which does great work for children and families and Tameside’s Global Grooves, a carnival arts organisation.

Another new addition to the Portfolio is Wigan-based Loud in Libraries, which stages gigs in libraries, successfully attracting a young adult audience across the north of England.

We want to ensure that young people can pursue a career in the arts in their own town or city. One organisation doing that is the Regional Theatre Young Directors Scheme, also new to the Portfolio, which has made its home at the Royal Exchange.

It joins current Portfolio members like the M6 Theatre Company in Rochdale, which is doing award-winning work with very young children.

Z Arts Manchester
Z Arts in Hulme has been added to the ACE portfolio
Arts Council England Manchester Offices Bdo Credit
Arts Council, Manchester offices BDO

And literature, and the power of the spoken and written word, is of particular strength and importance to Manchester. In the wake of May’s tragic events at the Arena, one of the most quoted and powerful expressions of the city’s collective spirit was Tony Walsh’s poem This is the Place.

Our new Portfolio includes a significant increase in funding for the written word. In Manchester, short story specialist Comma Press will be funded to further its work developing the Northern Fiction Alliance with other small presses.

Put together, this all adds up to a potent, wide-ranging cultural and creative offer for the people of Greater Manchester - and for the region’s many visitors.

Cultural tourism is an important economic contributor, and Manchester offers arts for everyone. It’s a big reason to visit. Earlier this year, we awarded Marketing Manchester £220,000 from our Cultural Destinations fund.

This new National Portfolio that we announced shows that we’re determined to continue investing more of our funds outside London, so that everyone, everywhere can enjoy the benefits that come from cultural investment - the joy of creativity, the illumination of an inspiring education; happy times spent with your family and friends; better wellbeing, stronger communities and civic and economic regeneration.

Manchester gets this: it understands that art is the beating heart of a city. There are exciting times ahead for Manchester and the north, and we’re glad to be a part of it.

Darren Henley Arts Council Colour Photo 2017 High Res

Darren Henley is Chief Executive of the Arts Council. He previously spent twenty-five years working in radio, leading Classic FM for fifteen years, first as Managing Editor and then as Managing Director. He was appointed an OBE in 2013 for services to music.

He is the author or co-author of thirty books, including 'The Virtuous Circle: Why Creativity and Cultural Education Count'. In 2016, Darren's most recent most recent book was published. 'The Arts Dividend: Why Investment in Culture Pays' looks in depth at seven key benefits that art and culture bring to our lives.