Arts front and centre thanks to funding award

Arts and culture across Somerset are set to benefit from the creation of a Somerset Cultural Strategy following a £30,000 grant awarded by Arts Council England.

Over the next year, the aim is to produce a five-year cultural strategy for the new unitary Somerset Council which comes into being in April 2023. Community priorities will be included with details of how the cultural identity of Somerset is promoted to ensure arts and culture is embedded at the heart of the new authority’s strategic plans.

The project will consider how to raise awareness and promote the role that culture and creativity can play in enriching communities and improving the quality of life, health, wellbeing and the local economy for Somerset residents, local businesses and visitors.

It will also help to create new employment opportunities and raise the profile of the county’s vibrant creative sector.

As well as the grant from the Arts Council, £5,000 has also been committed towards the strategy from each of the councils in Somerset – Mendip District Council, Sedgemoor District Council, Somerset County Council, Somerset West and Taunton Council and South Somerset District Council.

Cllr Federica Smith-Roberts, Somerset County Council’s Executive Lead Member for Communities, said: “Somerset is blessed with vibrant artists and superb arts organisations, but it remains the case that while talent is everywhere opportunity is not. We see the huge amounts of talent in our county and the Somerset Cultural Strategy will provide us with a fresh starting point to explore how we unleash creativity across Somerset so everyone can benefit from the creative arts.

“The Cultural Strategy will provide our new authority with an exciting vision of how the creative arts in Somerset could be transformed with world-class artists visiting our county, greater support for our local artists creating and working in the heart of our communities and opportunities for everyone to enjoy a diverse and exciting programme of arts and events.”

The project is being led by the Arts & Entertainment Service of South Somerset District Council based at The Octagon Theatre and Westlands Entertainment Venue, after the area was designated a ‘Priority Place’ by the Arts Council and included within the government’s Levelling Up for Culture Places. This comes on the back of SSDC’s commitment to developing The Octagon Theatre into a flagship cultural venue for the creative arts. The capital development of the theatre was awarded £10m of DCMS funding that will be managed via the Arts Council.

Phil Gibby, Area Director, Arts Council England, South West, said: “We’re delighted that the new Somerset Council are making this commitment to culture and creativity. Exploring what the cultural offer can look like in Somerset for people living and working across the county and intending to embed that at the early stage of this newly formed unitary authority is admirable.

“Culture and creativity make our lives better. It’s proven to boost civic pride and improve individual happiness – and clearly each of the existing councils in Somerset recognise it’s potential. We look forward to learning more about this strategy, which will help us to achieve our vision laid out in Let’s Create, our strategy designed to deliver new opportunities for every person in England to get creative and enjoy brilliant culture. Let’s Create recognises that talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not, and aims to ensure that the creative talent of every person in every village, town and city flourish.”

The Somerset Cultural Strategy will be prepared for the new council and the decision on whether it should be adopted, and funding opportunities pursued will be decided by the new authority.