Latest recession research highlights contrasting fortunes of cultural organisations in the West Midlands

Curving celing at NEC BirminghamConsumers are behaving in unusual ways and this is having a conflicting impact on our region’s cultural venues.

While our visitor attractions are bucking the national trend and attracting more visitors, there continues to be cause for concern amongst architectural, advertising, arts and business tourism professionals, many of whom are battling against a tide of reduced business and cash availability.

According to new recession research (doc, 284kb) published this week by the West Midlands Cultural Observatory, regional visitor attractions may be benefitting from an increasing tendency for people to enjoy leisure pursuits closer to home.

Instead of taking short and relatively expensive breaks abroad or in the capital, it’s the Alton Towers and West Midlands Safari Parks of this world that are pulling in the local crowds.

On the flip side, business tourism is not faring so well. Dwindling revenue from corporate exhibitions has put 100 jobs at risk within the NEC group, one of our key business tourism consortiums.

There is also evidence to suggest that architectural companies in the West Midlands are suffering a reduction in business as a result of the contraction of the region’s construction industry.

Moreover, a recent survey conducted by Screen West Midlands has suggested sales have been lower than expected so far this year within some local creative media companies, such as those offering television-based services. Results from the survey can be found in our recession research (doc, 284kb).

Interestingly, our research has highlighted how adverse conditions have prompted an innovative response from many cultural organisations in the West Midlands.

For example, one performing arts venue in Birmingham took steps to encourage risk-averse customers to attend a little-known production by offering a refund to anyone that did not enjoy the performance.

In another recession-busting move, a visitor attraction in Staffordshire has introduced a policy of reduced admission prices during popular visiting periods to good effect.

Despite some signs that the economic situation for many cultural organisations may be stabilising (if not improving), cultural professionals remain uneasy at the prospect of increasing pressures on private and public sources of income and the prospect of a reduction in customers able to renew membership subscriptions this Springtime.

It’s certainly important to continue to monitor the economic situation for the region’s cultural sector, as the economic situation continues to unfold.

The next quarterly update will be published in July 2009.

If you would like to receive the economic snapshot for the cultural sector directly please do get in touch with Lauren (lauren.amery@artscouncil.org.uk / 0121 631 5705). Also, please feel free to comment on this research in the comment box below.

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Photo credit: Birmingham NEC by Amanda Slater.

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