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October 2011

Understanding Turning Point

'TPNE Artistsí mobility conference 2011'. At which Manick Govinda (centre) presented evidence from The Manifesto Club campaign.

'TPNE Artistsí mobility conference 2011'.
At which Manick Govinda (centre) presented evidence from The Manifesto Club campaign.

In her report on Turning Point, Phyllida Shaw unwraps the ’what’s what and who’s who’ of this major strategy for England, to support discussions on greater participation by, and development for, artists within it.

'Turning Point' is the shorthand used to refer to Arts Council England's (ACE) ten-year strategy for the visual arts. The full title is Turning Point. Arts Council England: A strategy for the contemporary visual arts in England. It is also shorthand for the Turning Point Network, which ACE set up to implement the strategy in the regions, and also for the programme of activities being delivered or supported by the members of the Turning Point Network and by ACE's head office. These different uses of the term explain why phrases such as, "She's involved with Turning Point,' or 'it's a Turning Point project' or 'We might be able to fund this through Turning Point' are so commonly heard.

ACE's ambition is that, by 2016, the Turning Point strategy will have strengthened the visual arts in England by creating:

  • more opportunities for people to experience and engage with the contemporary visual arts wherever they are in the country
  • more opportunities for artists to make new work
  • a stronger culture of innovation and risk
  • a more diverse contemporary visual arts sector and more diverse audiences and participants
  • strengthened leadership and a stronger visual arts profession
  • stronger contemporary visual arts organisations with longer-term planning and less 'short-termism'
  • stronger regional, national and organisation-to-organisation partnerships
  • greater engagement in, and understanding of, contemporary art in its historical and cultural context.

Turning Point was one of the results of the comprehensive review of the contemporary visual arts in England commissioned by ACE in 2004 and completed in 2005. The review included four substantial pieces of research, looking at contemporary visual arts activity in England, employment conditions and diversity, participation in higher education in art and design and the impact of contemporary visual arts on the public realm.

The findings of this research and of the review process were summarised in what became known as 'The Jackson/Jordan Report'. The report "celebrate[d] the recent success of the contemporary visual arts but demonstrate[d] the price of that success - an unsustainable level of activity and a clear need to develop a new and more representative generation of leaders". It made recommendations and proposed actions relating to "structural fragmentation, regional imbalances, artistic programming, developing audiences, education and participation, maximising resources, developing the workforce, evidence and advocacy". (Arts Council England: A Strategy for the Contemporary Visual Arts in England, page 7)

In his foreword to the strategy, the ACE's then Chair, Sir Christopher Frayling, wrote: "The review gives us the mandate to assume a broader leadership role for the contemporary visual arts and, working with others, to make the case for integrated planning and investment to underpin the sustainability and growth of the visual arts. The ambition is to ensure that the large and growing audience for the visual arts has access to the widest range of contemporary art and the opportunity to see art from the past through the dynamic of the contemporary."

Implementing the strategy

Overall responsibility for implementation of the strategy lies with ACE. In 2006, the Director of Visual Arts Strategy set up the Turning Point Working Group - a group involving the Head of Visual Arts for each of the Arts Council's nine regions (East, East Midlands, London, North East, North West, South West, West Midlands and Yorkshire). The Working Group's remit was to write, and oversee the implementation of, a delivery plan for Turning Point which would be incorporated into ACE's overall plan for 2008-11. The national Working Group is no longer active.

The Turning Point strategy is being delivered, at regional level, by the Turning Point Network. The regional structure was influenced not only by the review but also by recommendations of two reports published in 2008: The McIntosh Review (of ACE's investment strategy for regularly funded organisations) and The McMaster Review (on supporting excellence in the arts). Both urged ACE to work more closely and respectfully with the organisations and artists it funds. The implementation of Turning Point was ACE's first significant opportunity to show that it had taken the recommendations of these reviews on board.

Rather than adopting the familiar, top-down approach to implementing a new strategy, ACE decided to share responsibility with a network of regional groups representing the visual arts sector and established specifically for that purpose. The network, conceived as a three-year pilot project, was to be both a mechanism for organising activity that would further the aims of the strategy and an experiment in delegated responsibility. The fact that the strategy did not include an action plan could be seen as a weakness, in that it probably delayed its implementation, but it could also be seen as a strength, in that it delegated to each region (and in the North West to three sub regions) responsibility for deciding how best to achieve the strategy's aims.

Shared responsibilities

The principle behind the Turning Point Network is that the sector should share responsibility, with ACE, for strengthening the visual arts. ACE's ambition is that the Network will create a visual arts sector that is:

  • better connected and more cohesive
  • confident about sharing knowledge and resources
  • working together towards a shared vision
  • stronger as a whole

(Source: Arts Council England. Turning Point Network: information. 15/4/09

The network is made up of eleven regional groups. Other than the North West (which has subdivided into three: Liverpool, Manchester and Lancashire & Cumbria) each region is represented by a single group. Each has chosen its own name.

  • East Midlands Visual Arts Network (EMVAN)
  • Turning Point East (TPE)
  • Turning Point North East (TPNE)
  • Turning Point South East (TPSE)
  • Turning Point South West (TPSW)
  • Turning Point West Midlands (TPWM)
  • Turning Point Yorkshire and the Humber (TPYH)
  • Visual Arts London Strategy Group
  • Contemporary Visual Arts Manchester (CVAM)
  • North by North West (NxNW) (Lancashire and Cumbria)
  • Visual Arts in Liverpool (VAiL)

The groups are responsible for strengthening the visual arts in their regions in whatever ways they think appropriate. They and ACE's head office instigate and support activities that further the aims of the strategy. These activities are known, collectively, as the Turning Point Programme.

Membership of each regional group and the scope of its activity are determined regionally and the groups therefore vary in their composition and size. Each has a steering group which includes representatives of organisations working in the contemporary visual arts in the region and in some cases individuals (artists, independent curators, project managers and others). The strategy stresses the importance of strengthening the relationship between the visual arts and heritage sectors, and most regional groups therefore include museums in their membership.

ACE has observer status on most groups. The regional groups are expected to:

  • cultivate a shared vision for change in their region
  • deliver strategic programmes of work, in collaboration
  • inform future thinking by sharing knowledge across the network advocate on behalf of the sector

(Source: Arts Council England, TPN: information. 15/4/09)

The network has created a number of time-limited working parties to discuss and propose action on particular issues, such as advocacy, knowledge sharing and sustainable business models. The knowledge sharing working party is still active.

The balance of regional and national interests is important. In parallel with actions taken by regional groups, ACE has instigated action in a number of strategically important areas including, for example:

  • developing national and regional collections of contemporary art
  • formulating a blueprint for workforce development
  • building contemporary art markets outside London

The regional groups have developed at different speeds and in different ways. The first group was formed in the South East (February 2008) and the most recent in the South West and the West Midlands (March 2010). By August 2010, the steering groups had a total of 201 members between them and had "directly involved 2,500 individuals or arts organisations in the visual arts sector".
(Source: Turning Point Network. Interim Evaluation Report, page 4.)

Seven of the eleven groups are using some of their funds to employ a Coordinator. The other groups have a variety arrangements, including time given by staff of member organisations.

Until March 2011, ACE employed a National Turning Point Network Coordinator who was based at ACE's head office in London. Simon Zimmerman held the post until October 2010 and was succeeded by Kathryn Standing until the end of March 2011.

In April 2011, ACE delegated the coordination of the Turning Point Network to Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, as part of its funding agreement. The new National Coordinator, Julia Bell, who is also coordinator of Turning Point North East is employed by Baltic. Baltic's application to ACE to become a National Portfolio Organisation, from April 2012, included a bid to coordinate the Turning Point Network from 2012-15. This was successful.

The Turning Point Network was intended to be a three-year pilot project. Initially funded by ACE until March 2011, this has been extended until March 2012. From 2012, the expectation is that the regional groups will find a way to fund themselves, and the administration of the network. In some regions, networks will receive funding through the allocations made to organisations that are part of the National Portfolio.


Between 2008 and 2011, ACE spent a total of £3.4m on implementation of Turning Point. Of this, just over £1.5m was spent on the Turning Point Network, including the cost of setting up and running the regional groups and almost £1.6m has been spent on the delivery of the Turning Point Programme at regional and national level.

Links - national site with links to each regional Turning Point network site - the 2006 Turning Point report including research and analysis documents that informed it.

'Understanding Turning Point' by Phyllida Shaw with more information on the history and scope each of the regional Turning Point networks such as objectives, priorities and membership of committees and decision-making groups, and the 2011 stakeholder survey results plus a commentary on the future challenges is now published at

Thanks to Julia Bell, Turning Point National Coordinator for her assistance in developing this report for publication.

This article plus more on arts funding at

Phyllida Shaw

First published: September 2011

Comments on this article

Sorry about that Christian. There has been a slight delay getting the full version of Understanding Turning Point published. We should have it on the site later this week.

posted on 2011-10-03 by Stephen Palmer The page you are looking for can not be found.

posted on 2011-10-03 by Christian Barnes

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