This discussion paper, drafted by the Culture Forum North project group on Public Engagement, sets out the beginnings of a strategy that relates to public engagement, but is open to interaction with, and will be influenced by, the other two project themes of the Research and Cultural and Creative Careers.

We welcome your involvement in the conversation, and any information you would like to contribute.  Please contact Sarah Fisher,

It is recognised that joint delivery of arts and cultural activity for the public, especially in contributing to city-wide events (festivals, capitals of culture, major sporting events etc) has historically led to many on-going partnerships between universities and the cultural sector.

Both the arts/cultural sector and the university sector are shaped by policies, funding and organisational cultures that recognise public engagement as a driver at an institutional level.

For universities there is a growing recognition that many elements of university-wide public engagement programmes can be delivered well via arts and cultural activity, although this is by no means the only driver for partnership in delivering arts and cultural activity. (see 1.2)

For most arts and cultural organisations public engagement with arts and cultural activity is what they do, and strive to do better with university partners.

(See differing policy contexts for this in Appendix 1 below).

Culture Forum North’s (CFN) terms of reference identifies partnerships between the HE and cultural sectors as playing a significant role in:

It also outlines a series of partnership activities that indirectly lead to ‘better’, or potentially more, public engagement in arts and cultural activity, namely:

Key questions include:

Goals for public engagement in arts and cultural activity.

There is a need to clarify what each partner hopes to achieve by investing resources in public engagement in arts and cultural activity because partners goals differ.

1.1     Goals for the arts and cultural sector.

The government’s ‘Taking Part Survey’ suggested that between 2006 and 2013 overall arts engagement in England increased by 10 per cent, with over 34 million people engaging in the arts.

Publicly funded arts and cultural organisations recognise that partnerships with universities can support their goals of reaching more people and providing excellent cultural product / experiences, specifically:

 1.2     Goals for Universities

Universities do deliver arts and cultural activity to the public on an on-going basis. Many universities are direct deliverers of arts and cultural activity to the public via university theatres, arts centres, galleries, museums etc often working in partnership with the cultural sector. Universities also invest in new public-facing arts/ cultural buildings run by them or in partnership with the arts and cultural sector.

Obviously universities primary role (and business) is education, including delivering creative and cultural courses. Increasing emphasis on ‘industry-led’ courses, has resulted in partnerships between the cultural sector and practice-based departments and courses, through which, delivery of arts and cultural activity to the public is a central element of the course. Simultaneously many of the artists and creatives employed by practice-based courses are working regularly with cultural organisations to deliver public programmes. These individuals often provide leadership for specific public programmes and their involvement often goes beyond their university’s institutional aims.

At an institutional level, universities increasingly recognise that public engagement via arts and cultural activity can be an effective means to:

Key Questions

2.       The North as the Context for Partnerships delivering Public Engagement in arts and cultural activity.

2.1     The strategic development of public engagement in arts and culture at a city or area level.

Culture Forum North recognises that there is an opportunity to ensure members partnership working is recognised for, and fully contributes to, the delivery arts and cultural activity to and with the public. This work does already impact upon key agendas shared more broadly with local authority and other non-arts partners across the North – as evident in cultural leadership groups in which universities are keen partners such as North East Culture Partnership and the Sheffield Cultural Consortium

The Economy, Place-making and the broader Civic agenda are key drivers here. Public engagement in arts and culture via city or area-wide activity – such as cultural tourism, regeneration, health and well being programmes – provides a strong and visible focus for public engagement with arts and cultural activity.

The recent political impetus towards devolution, particularly as the localisation is unfolding in strategic planning, delivery and budget management, suggests that the new city regions will increasingly shape agendas that inform national thinking on arts and cultural delivery in relation to bodies such as the LEP and new statutory bodies for integrated health care.

The broader concept of the North (Northern Powerhouse, Greater North etc) as a strategic entity is still in its infancy in terms of infrastructure that delivers across the area.

Key questions include:

3.     Culture Forum North’s Strategic Aims and Objectives for delivering arts and cultural activity to the public.



 Appendix 1        

Background information on the Context for Public Engagement from the Arts and Cultural Sectors Viewpoint.

As previously asserted, public engagement via arts and cultural activity is what most arts and cultural organisations do. However its important to recognise that a variety of policy drivers – cultural, economic and social – significantly influence the nature of publicly funded arts and cultural activity.

Investment in cultural infrastructure and cultural activity is changing, the Warwick Commission provide a useful perspective on this, especially highlighting the challenges for the arts and cultural sector in diversifying the audience demographic:

Cultural policy at a national, local and institutional level asserts ‘public benefit’ as a fundamental driver for investing in cultural activity, recognising both the intrinsic and extrinsic value of arts and culture to society (and the inter-relationship of these two values).

Arts Council England has a central focus on making the case for public investment in the arts and culture, their website holds 2,920 results when searching ‘making the case for the arts’.

Measuring the public benefit of engaging with arts and cultural activity has significantly shaped arts and cultural organisations over recent decades, particularly in the North through regeneration programmes and place-making initiatives with an investment emphasis on economic drivers and social outcomes.

Public benefit has long been the driver for Local authorities as key delivers and funders of the arts and culture, especially focused upon the economic argument, for example the Local Government Association’s ‘Driving Growth through local government investment in the arts’

AHRC’s programme looking at cultural value goes beyond publically funded arts and cultural activity, to include amateur and creative industries

The cultural sectors‘ delivery’ relationships with the creative industries sector goes beyond basic economic drivers (like cultural tourism and successful new commercial cultural products or services) extending into art form development and social benefit. However, benefit to the economy holds significant sway in policy terms at a national level where the case for public investment in the arts is in need of constant re-enforcement. This case is developed by the Creative Industries Federation, here

Arts Council England’s strategy ‘Great Art and Culture for Everyone’, as the title suggests, marries the overarching aim of ‘excellence’ with the aim of their investment actively reaching as broad a public as possible. The strategy details their goals for investing in arts and culture over 2015-18, including their major investment via a national portfolio of organisations (NPO’s) and via open access lottery funds. The 3 goals relating directly to delivery are as follows:

2.2     Public Engagement from the University sector perspective.

Universities have shifted their thinking over recent years towards becoming more outward facing as institutions seeking to evidence their contribution to, and connections with, the economy and society. This shift has been given focus by the Impact agenda in relation to research, but has a number of other drivers including: uncertainty about public funding; growing competition for students (and the importance of perceptions of the location / town); changing emphasis on knowledge and innovation developed with partners and individuals outside of academia; new technologies and the opportunities or ‘threats’ of distance learning.

John Goddard argues that civic engagement should become a guiding organisational principal for universities, informing their practice at local, national and international levels. He describes a civic university as one which,

‘…while it operates on a global scale, it realises that its location helps form its identity and provides opportunities for it to grow and help others, including individual learners, businesses and public institutions…’

He suggests that individual universities evolve, creating a national network that meets local needs and opportunities, and that university engagement supports social, economic and cultural development.

Economic v social role.

Whilst broad public engagement is a key focus for funders and university staff, many commentators have suggested that policy interventions have prioritised and incentivised the economic over the social role, particularly through ‘knowledge transfer’ to business – which generates significant income for the university.

The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement seeks to support a culture change in universities. Their vision is of a higher education sector making a vital, strategic and valued contribution to 21st-century society through its public engagement activity.

Their website highlights policy thinking over recent years which provides a re-focus on how universities engage with wider society, including:

Led by the Research Councils UK, the Concordat (2010) sets out funders’ expectations as follows:

The Researcher Development Framework.

Developed in 2011, the Research Councils triggered an extensive consultation on researcher skills which resulted in the launch of the Researcher Development Framework. It articulates four domains in which researchers should be proficient, including ‘Engagement, Influence and Impact‘: this domain emphasised skills in engagement and collaboration ‘the knowledge and skills to work with others and ensure the wider impact of research’

The impact agenda set of incentives and accountability measures for research funding, which explicitly incentivised research that delivered impact ‘beyond academia’. Public engagement is explicitly encouraged as a ‘route to impact’ and as a result, is increasingly entering mainstream research practice.

Increasingly university leaders are vocal in their support of the role of creativity, and the arts and culture within society, particularly relating to notions of engagement, a civic role and the public good as delivered by universities.

Building an Engaged Future for Higher Education (Duncan, Manners, Wilson, Dec 2014) suggests that:

Appendix 2 Case Studies: