It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

Despite a positive performance in the last quarter of 2009, the Cultural Observatory’s latest recession snapshot (pdf, 311kb) suggests the West Midlands’ cultural sector is facing a period of ‘funding uncertainty’.

Evidence highlighted in the paper suggests that while many local cultural organisations remain optimistic about the short-term stability of core funding sources, perception of funding security is low compared to confidence levels pre-recession.

Spines of books on a shelf in a libraryIn the Cultural Observatory’s own economic survey with local cultural organisations, 72% of respondents stated that they were ‘less optimistic’ about the stability of core funding sources compared to 2007.

Against a backdrop of funding concerns, the research shows that the cultural sector continued to see increases in numbers of customers through the door in the last three months of 2009, building on the unusually high increase in footfall seen over the summer.

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Cultural sector recession survey – can you help?

The West Midlands cultural sector recession survey for the October–December 2009 quarter is now live.

If you work in the region’s cultural sector we’d appreciate your help in getting the word out.

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BIG research quantifies the benefits of investment in sports facilities

Research into the impact of the Big Lottery-funded New Opportunities for PE and Sport programme (NOPES) has captured valuable information about some of the benefits of investment in sport.

The research (PDF, 452kb), which included a survey with nearly 2,000 young people, sought to quantify the impact of NOPES, which involved a £751 million investment in PE and sport facilities and activities across the UK (2002-2009).

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Consumers choose to spend their cash on cultural attractions when the going gets tough according to West Midlands Cultural Observatory

They said it would happen and according to research published this week by the West Midlands Cultural Observatory it is happening: the recession has caused consumers to be more selective about what cultural products and services they spend their cash on.

Evidence cited in the latest recession paper suggests that over the Spring and Summer months, people have been saving money on accommodation, but continuing to spend on visits to cultural attractions such as museums, historic houses and visitor attractions when visiting in the region.

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West Midlands culture: an antidote to the downturn?

rolerr-coaster-pic_LAAccording to the latest cultural sector economic snapshot (PDF, 360kb) published this week by the West Midlands Cultural Observatory, culture will have its role to play in the region’s post-recession recovery.

Evidence cited in the new paper suggests that West Midlands residents may be turning to culture as an antidote to the downturn.

Visitor numbers for local visitor attractions have exceeded the national average for both the October–December 2008 and January–March 2009 quarters.

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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.

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Guidance for local authorities undertaking research into culture

Stratford Royal Shakespeare theatre at nightEver read through a research report and wished that you could have the same types of information for the geographical area that you live and work in?

With this in mind, the West Midlands Cultural Observatory has just published a guidance paper (Word, 226KB) aimed at local authorities in the West Midlands who want to replicate the research presented in the two recent evidence papers:

This includes, for example, research into:

  • Numbers of people employed by cultural and creative industries.
  • Rates of participation in cultural pursuits such as visits to museums and art galleries and participation in sport.
  • Cultural attractions based in the area.

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How is the West Midlands cultural sector performing during the recession?

Ironbridge with views of Telford townEconomic research launched in March 2009 by the West Midlands Cultural Observatory has helped to shed light on how the region’s cultural and creative sector is performing during the current economic downturn — an area which has not been the subject of sustained research in the past.

The economic snapshot paper (Word, 306KB) includes the results of a small scale survey which explores how levels of visitors and revenue have been affected in cultural venues such as museums, arts centres and visitor attractions.

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Acknowledging the cross-sector importance of culture

Cover of State of the Region Report 2008October has been an important month for colleagues at the West Midlands Regional Observatory.

Not only was the State of the Region Report 2008 launched, along with the Regional Integrated Economic Assessment, the Observatory held its annual conference, attracting a good cross-section of the region’s key thinkers and policy-makers. In all three cases, the importance of culture, particularly to the region’s economy, was highlighted.

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Uncertainty over the future of regional cultural research

Chair of the Cultural Research & Intelligence Group and Chief Executive of Museums, Libraries & Archives (MLA) in the West Midlands, Jon Finch provides some insight into the current situation for regional cultural research:

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Ethnicity and social class: most influential factors in West Midlands’ cultural participation

According to the Regional Lifestyle Survey, of all demographic factors, residents’ ethnicity and social class best predict what they choose to do with their leisure time and how much importance they attach to local cultural facilities.

The Survey, published by the West Midlands Regional Observatory in 2005, used a region-wide postal questionnaire to explore a range of lifestyle-related issues with residents, including their level of participation in cultural pursuits.

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Cultural Research and Intelligence Network newsletter: call for information

Thumbnail of CRAIN newsletter

The next Cultural Research & Intelligence Network (CRAIN) newsletter is due out in October 2008.

If you have any information on recent research and intelligence in the arts, media, heritage, sports, play and/or tourism fields that you would like to share with the 120+ CRAIN members across the West Midlands region, please forward them to me (lauren.amery@wmro.org) by Friday 17th October 2008.

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Changes to regional cultural co-ordination

Arts Minister, Margaret Hodge has announced the closure of the Regional Cultural Consortiums by March 2009.

Her intention is that in their place, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s four key agencies in the regions – Arts Council England, Sport England, English Heritage and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council – will have a duty to work together to jointly deliver a core set of shared priorities across the culture and sport agenda.

In terms of regional cultural research, this change in structure may have implications for the future of the West Midlands Cultural Observatory. In the meantime, the Cultural Research Analyst post that supports this initiative is currently funded until March 2009 and there is a strong commitment to joined-up cultural research by regional cultural agencies.

It would be interesting to know your thoughts on this topic. For example, you may have a view on which elements of regional cultural research should, if possible, be retained under the new structure?

Forthcoming research from the West Midlands Cultural Observatory

You may be interested to know about research currently being conducted at the West Midlands Cultural Observatory.

Over the next year, we will be producing three evidence papers which draw together what we know about the impact of culture on ‘prosperity’, ‘people’ and ‘place’ in the West Midlands. Not only will this help to inform regional policy, the aim is that the papers will also provide a useful reference tool for everyone in the sector needing to ‘make the case’ for culture.

The first paper to be developed will look at the economic impact of culture, building on Culture West Midland’s Growing the Cultural Economy in the West Midlands (2007) report. The 2007 study estimated that the region’s cultural sector accounts for:

  • 12.5% of the region’s Gross Value Added (from a total turnover of £18 billion p/a)
  • 10.1% of the region’s employment
  • 14.5% of businesses in the region

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