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Devolution deal will help smaller arts organisations compete for national funding

The Let’s Talk campaign in North Yorkshire is asking local people about what is important to them about where they live, how they think the new North Yorkshire council should spend their money and what they hope devolution will bring. This case study is from Let’s Talk Devolution.

The chief executive of a leading arts charity which supports rural communities in North Yorkshire has welcomed plans to realise the region’s cultural potential through greater decision-making powers handed over by the Government.

As part of a proposed devolution deal, the Government has committed to work with the area on the development and delivery of new strategies to build on the region’s cultural strengths and assets. It is hoped the strategies will empower smaller organisations to compete for more funding from national bodies.

Max May is the chief executive of Rural Arts, which is North Yorkshire’s only arts charity to work across all districts and artistic disciplines.

He said: “North Yorkshire is a place that should be sung and shouted about all the time but is often overlooked for funding. The county has an incredible range of creative talent with a lot of individual artists and organisations doing brilliant work. We are heartened that culture is being recognised by the Government as having a role to play in improving people’s lives in our towns and villages.”

Founded in 1993, Rural Arts aims to enrich lives and connect communities. It stages 400 events a year at The Courthouse, a vibrant venue and cultural hub in Thirsk. It also programmes 70 professional performances a year through its rural touring scheme and supports vulnerable and isolated people with its outreach work. The registered charity receives around a quarter of its funding from Arts Council England – it is in the National Portfolio – with the remainder coming from foundations, contracts and commissions.

Mr May said: “The challenges faced by our communities are getting more and more serious. We feel a real responsibility to reach and support people through the arts. We see a huge positive impact in terms of improved mental health and resilience. For example, our Hearts and Craft programme helps to build social networks, confidence and wellbeing for the over-65s. A lot of our programmes are oversubscribed and there are people that need support who we can’t currently reach with our programmes. Arts and culture can definitely contribute to making tough times a little easier.”

The proposed devolution deal promises to support cultural organisations to provide a strong offer to communities to maximise the contribution of culture, heritage, sport and leisure to place-making in the region’s towns and cities and help attract national and international partners. By working together, smaller organisations should be able to access opportunities of scale enjoyed by larger, urban arts organisations. Potential benefits could include shared back office operations, the provision of purpose-built creative space and the ability to organise large-scale initiatives such as a rural version of the City of Culture initiative, according to Mr May.

Cllr Carl Les, Leader of North Yorkshire County Council, said: “Cultural organisations like Rural Arts really do enrich lives and connect communities in York and North Yorkshire but undoubtedly they could do so much more with additional resources. Our proposed devolution deal seeks to realise the region’s creative and cultural potential to complement our broader ambitions around place-making, attracting and retaining young people and supporting the growth of our visitor economy.”

Have you heard about devolution? A public consultation is live and runs until mid-

December. Visit to find out more.


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