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Our culture-led approach is 'transformational'

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Published on 04 February 2019

Sir Nicholas Serota at National Glass Centre, Sunderland
Sir Nicholas Serota at National Glass Centre, Sunderland

Arts leaders have praised Sunderland for its innovative partnership approach to culture-led regeneration. Today’s publication of the Cultural Cities Enquiry describes Sunderland as a pioneer of culture partnerships and urges other areas to learn from the setting up of Sunderland Culture. 

The Cultural Cities report was launched on 5 February in London, at a meeting led by Independent chair, Dame Jayne-Anne Gadhia, Arts Council England chair, Sir Nicholas Serota, and members of the expert Advisory Board.

Members of the independent Enquiry champion the power of cultural investment to drive growth in our cities. Originally coming together in March 2018, the Cultural Cities Enquiry set out to develop a new model that would enable culture to flourish in cities facing diminishing public funding.

The Enquiry outlines how UK cities can make greater use of cultural assets to promote thriving communities and to compete successfully for talent, tourism and investment – while developing new income streams that will support culture for the long term. It also emphasise the role of culture in attracting people to cities as places they want to work, live, and play.

Chief among its recommendations is the creation of Cultural City Compacts that will bring together civic leaders and partners from culture, business, and education, to make best use of resources and secure the social and economic benefits that come from embedding arts and culture in civic life.

These Compacts will deliver against local priorities such as regenerating high streets and post-industrial quarters, establishing creative clusters, developing tourist revenue, supporting local creative talent and building civic engagement.



Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair, Arts Council England: “Successful cities are those that create opportunities for people to earn their living, make friends, bring up families and engage in leisure and sport. Culture makes a vital contribution to these activities, while the creative industries are our fastest growing business sector. This Report shows how we can make best use of our cities’ cultural assets to build strong communities for the future.

There are some remarkable examples of culture-led regeneration such as the partnership between the University of Sunderland, the local authority and private business which has created Sunderland Culture. In recent years partners have leveraged around £25m of investment in arts and culture infrastructure. It is transformational.”

Arts Minister Michael Ellis also singled out Sunderland: “I am very interested in what is happening in Sunderland and the role being played by the university and partners. It is a very good example of the kind of cultural cities compact we would like to see in other areas.”

The Minister announced a £220,000 fund to be shared between nine or ten early adopters of the Culture Cities Compact. It is expected that Sunderland will be one.

Chair of Sunderland Culture and University of Sunderland Pro Vice-Chancellor, Graeme Thompson, said: “It was good to see Sunderland singled out as an example of innovative partnership working. The contribution of the university and its partners Sunderland city council and Paul Callaghan’s Music Arts and Culture Trust are recognised in today’s report. The creation of Sunderland Culture to develop and operate the city’s cultural venues is seen as a pioneering example of the kind of Culture City Compacts being proposed by the enquiry team.”



Sunderland Culture Company is an innovative model of cultural leadership between the University, City Council and Sunderland Music Arts and Culture Trust. It manages five major venues owned by the partners, delivering large scale cultural projects. Resources are pooled to support a single management team, a central ticketing system and programme planning across all venues. The Culture Company generates income from its venues and acts as a central platform for negotiating national funding. It is the driving force behind a major regeneration on of the city centre in the establishment of a Cultural Quarter, and runs health and wellbeing programmes in Sunderland’s local communities.

Strong and sustained collaboration between strategic city partners can support collective, coordinated action to grow a city’s cultural ecosystem, to drive lasting social and economic benefits. Cities (like Sunderland) with a clear vision for culture supported by business, city authorities, education and the cultural sector can align activity and funding and leverage new resources.

Graeme Thompson is quoted in the report on the subject of leadership: “The key is to bring together partners who will commit to a shared vision around the impact that culture can make across a city.

“Sunderland is expected to be announced as one of the first wave of City Culture Compacts – which is one of the key recommendations of the report. GT commented: The enquiry team were impressed at the way partners came together in Sunderland to create the culture company. There’s a belief that cities considering setting up culture compacts could learn a lot from what’s been happening in Sunderland.”

The report demonstrates how business and cultural sectors can work together to plan and support local growth through culture, based on their shared interests in promoting creative and digital innovation, capturing external investment and attracting and nurturing talent.

Launched in April 2018, the Cultural Cities Enquiry brought together expertise from across the business, property and urban regeneration, creative industries, hospitality and cultural sectors, together with city authorities, to identify scalable solutions to drive inclusive growth in cities through investment in culture, drawing inspiration from innovative models across the UK – including Sunderland.



City Cultural Compacts: Cities would draw together partners from across city government, culture, business and higher education

Corporate Social Venture Funds: Local vehicles for social investment into culture and creative organisations

Creative Talent Pathways: Coordinated approaches to development of creative talent to meet local needs, which government could support by making apprenticeship levy rules more flexible

Cultural property assets: Making strategic use of cities’ cultural property assets to revive high streets and city centres, and help prevent displacement of cultural activity in the wake of urban regeneration.


Dame Jayne-Anne Gadhia, Independent Chair of the Cultural Cities Enquiry said: “Our aim in undertaking this enquiry was to help cities across the UK to unlock the full potential of culture to promote thriving communities and drive economic growth. Smart investment, innovation and collaboration are at the heart of our proposals to radically increase the ability of cities to use arts and culture to maximise the social and economic benefits of a city’s culture for everyone.”

Jeremy Wright MP, Culture Secretary: “Cultural investment can be a huge catalyst for regeneration and this valuable and far-reaching report shows how we can help creativity thrive in our communities.

"I'm happy to confirm government will support the Enquiry's key recommendation to create Cultural Compacts. Local people know their towns and cities best. By bringing people together to work in partnership, I hope the culture and creativity that makes our communities unique can continue to flourish."