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Understanding Turning Point - A briefing paper

Over the past five years, the words Turning Point have been read, heard, written and spoken with increasing frequency by people in the visual arts in England, but for many individual arts practitioners, in particular, the origins and activities of Turning Point remain a bit opaque.  This briefing paper is for them and for anyone interested in understanding more about what Turning Point is and does.

What is Turning Point?

Turning Point is the abbreviated title of Arts Council England's strategy for the contemporary visual arts for 2006-16. It is also shorthand for the structures and programme of activities through which the strategy is being delivered.    

The full title of the strategy is Turning Point. Arts Council England: A strategy for the contemporary visual arts in England. (See Reading 1 at the end of this paper.) Turning Point is notable for three things: its ten-year span; its reach to the whole of the visual arts sector, not just visual arts organisations or artists funded by Arts Council England; and the combination of national and regional activity through which it is being delivered 

Turning Point activities are being instigated both by the Arts Council England's visual arts department at head office and by the eleven regional groups of organisations and individuals that make up Turning Point Network.  The network was launched in 2008 as a three-year pilot project to promote collaboration between organisations in each region, to give them the opportunity to identify weaknesses in the visual arts sector in their area and also to give them the means to address them. This explains the commonly heard phrases, "It's a Turning Point project" or "She's involved with Turning Point," or "We might be able to fund this through Turning Point."

What Arts Council England hopes Turning Point will achieve

ACE's ambition is that, by 2016, the implementation of Turning Point will have resulted in the following outcomes:

  • 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.

In 2010 ACE published a new ten-year strategic framework for its investment in the arts, Achieving great art for everyone. Turning Point is now contributing to the implementation of this larger strategy.

Implementing the strategy: The Turning Point Working Group

In 2006, ACE's Director of Visual Arts Strategy (now renamed Director of Visual Arts) set up the Turning Point Working Group. This included the Head of Visual Arts in 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 an initial delivery plan for the strategy.

Turning Point Network

In 2008, Arts Council England launched Turning Point Network - a national network of regional groups with a commitment to strengthening the visual arts in their region. The network would be a regionally sensitive mechanism for identifying the weaknesses and opportunities in each region and an experiment in collaboration between its members.

From 2008-11, ACE provided the network with a Coordinator, employed by and based at ACE's head office. In April 2011, the coordination of the Network was delegated to Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, in Gateshead. From April 2012, the coordination of the Network will be part of Baltic's funding agreement as a National Portfolio Organisation for at least the next three years.

Turning Point Network is made up of eleven groups (three in the North West and one in each of the other English regions). The membership of each regional group and the scope of its activity are determined locally, which is why the groups vary in their composition, their size and their activities. ACE has provided funding for coordination and seven of the eleven groups have employed a dedicated Coordinator. Others use a variety of arrangements including payment to one or more member organisations to service the group.

ACE funded the set-up period of every group, but from April 2012 they will be financing themselves. In some cases, groups have been able to include at least some of their coordination costs in a bid by one of their members for National Portfolio Organisation status. 

The regional groups all have a steering group. Every steering group includes representatives of organisations working in the contemporary visual arts in that region; some include representatives of museums and galleries and of higher education institutions, and some include individuals (artists, independent curators, project managers and others). ACE has observer status on most groups. Each steering group nominates its own Chair. The Coordinators and the Chairs of the regional groups meet on a regular basis, reinforcing the fact that this is a national network.   

The network has established a small number of national working parties to look at issues of interest to all regions. These have included knowledge sharing, advocacy and sustainable business models. In some cases, these working groups have commissioned research. At the time of writing, the knowledge sharing working party is only active one. 

The Turning Point Programme

The Turning Point Programme is the programme of national and regional activity through which the strategy is being delivered. Some of this activity has been commissioned and managed by ACE's head office, but most of it has been the responsibility of members of Turning Point Network. Some regions set up their Turning Point group faster than others, with the result that there has been more Turning Point activity in some parts of the country than others.

Head office activity has included research, feasibility studies, toolkits, training and professional development, and investment in activities to promote collections and market development, The Turning Point budget has funded national organisations such as Engage (for its research into how young people learn from an involvement with contemporary art, galleries and artists), the National Trust (to develop a contemporary art programme for is properties) and the Contemporary Art Society (to map and develop regional public collections).

ACE investment 2008-11

Since 2008, ACE has invested £3.41m in Turning Point. Of this, £1.74m has been spent on the running costs of the network, including national coordination and the evaluation of the network by Annabel Jackson Associates. Around £1.67m has been spent on the Turning Point Programme of national and regional activities. Turning Point has been financed principally through ACE's managed funds, with a small amount from Grants for the arts. Turning Point groups have been able to apply individually to Grants for the arts but, from April 2012, only those that are not National Portfolio Organisations will be eligible to do so.

Turning Point in more detail - A strategy informed by research

In December 2004, ACE started work on a comprehensive review of the state of the contemporary visual arts in England to inform its future strategy. The review included four pieces of research. These looked at:

  • contemporary visual arts activity in England
  • employment conditions and diversity
  • participation in higher education in art and design
  • the impact of contemporary visual arts on the public realm.

The review took a year to complete and the Turning Point strategy was one of the results.

The strategy set out to respond to the shortcomings and opportunities identified by the review. These are summarised in what became known as The Jackson/Jordan Report (See Reading 2.) That 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 relating to "structural fragmentation, regional imbalances, artistic programming, developing audiences, education and participation, maximising resources, developing the workforce, evidence and advocacy". (Source: Arts Council England: A Strategy for the Contemporary Visual Arts in England, page 7)

In his foreword to the Turning Point strategy, ACE's then Chair, Sir Christopher Frayling, concluded: "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."

A regional approach to implementation

It took until 2006 to publish the Turning Point strategy and the restructuring of ACE's head office delayed its implementation further. The restructuring resulted in a new post of Director of Visual Arts Strategy. This post (since been changed to Director, Visual Arts) was to have lead responsibility for the implementation of the strategy, supported by a Working Group made up ACE's Heads of Visual Arts in the regions. 

The decision to create a regional mechanism - Turning Point Network - to implement the strategy lay in both the findings of the review process and in the ACE's response to the recommendations of two reports published in 2008. The McIntosh Review, commissioned by the ACE, analysed Arts Council England's controversial investment strategy for Regularly Funded Organisations. The McMaster Review, commissioned by the Secretary of State for Culture, looked at how excellence in the arts could be better supported. Both reports urged ACE to work more closely and respectfully with the organisations and artists it funds. The implementation of a new ten-year strategy for the visual arts was ACE's first opportunity to show that it had listened to that advice. 

Rather than adopting the familiar, top-down approach, ACE chose to share responsibility for achieving the strategy's outcomes with a network of regional visual arts interests that would be established specifically for that purpose. Turning Point Network was conceived as a three-year pilot project and was to be both a mechanism for organising activity that would reflect the aims of the strategy and an experiment in delegated responsibility.

Turning Point programme: national activities

While Turning Point Network has been focusing on activity in the regions, ACE has been building strategic relationships with national organisations that might be in a position help it to achieve some of the Turning Point outcomes.

These have included the (now defunct) MLA, the Art Fund, Tate (through Tate Connects), the National Trust (through support for a contemporary art programme in properties and landscapes managed by the National Trust), the Forestry Commission and British Waterways (commissions). There has been funding for the Contemporary Art Society, the Museums Association, Artangel and Lux to support the development of regional and public collections of contemporary art and Engage received funding for its enquire programme, to promote the use of contemporary art galleries as inspiring places of education for children and young people. There have also been grants for skills development and advocacy. 

Research has continued to be an important feature of Turning Point. Over the past three years, ACE has also commissioned or contributed to the cost of several research-based publications to support the implementation of the strategy. These have included a toolkit for collecting audience data in the visual arts; a preparatory paper and full report on developing contemporary art collections; a workforce development plan for the visual arts workforce; and a report on business models in the visual arts, by Susan Royce. 

In 2009, Annabel Jackson Associates were contracted to evaluate Turning Point Network. An interim report was published in 2010 and the final report was completed in spring 2011. A summary is now published online. This and most other reports can be found in the publications section of ACE's website, together with the strategy itself and The Jackson/Jordan Report.  Please see Reading 2 at end of this paper.

Turning Point Network: structures and roles

The principle behind Turning Point Network is that the visual arts sector should share responsibility, with ACE, for strengthening the visual arts in England. ACE's ambition is that a vibrant, active network will ultimately 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


Turning Point Network has no legal structure of its own. It is made up of eleven regional groups: three in the North West (Liverpool, Manchester, and Lancashire & Cumbria) and one in each of the other English regions. Each group has chosen its own name.

Contemporary Visual Arts Manchester (CVAM)
East Midlands Visual Arts Network (EMVAN)
North by North West (NxNW) (Lancashire and Cumbria)
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 (VALS)
Visual Arts in Liverpool (VAiL)

The expectation is that the groups will

  • 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


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). The expectation was that each group would identify the particular needs of its region and design a programme of activity to meet those needs.

ACE appointed a National Network Coordinator to support the establishment of the steering groups and then to coordinate joint events, working groups and resources, such as the Turning Point website.

Each regional group has a steering group with a Chair and a Coordinator. As noted above, the Coordinator may be someone employed specifically for that purpose, or may be a staff of one of the member organisations. By February 2011, there were 162 people serving on regional steering groups. (Source: Turning Point Network. Final Evaluation Report, June 2011).

Each steering group decides its own terms of reference and membership. With the exception of North by North West, which is a company limited by guarantee, none of the regional groups is legally constituted. 

Most of the steering groups meet once a month. The Coordinators meet quarterly, in London and their meetings inform quarterly meetings of the Chairs. A joint statement by the Chairs can be found on the home page of the Turning Point website.

Seven of the eleven steering groups are made up solely of representatives of organisations, although some of those representatives are practicing artists. Four groups include individual artists and independent curators in their membership alongside the organisations. Nine groups have at least one museum representative, seven have at least one employee of a higher education institution and five include at least one provider of services to the visual arts sector (e.g. a-n, Contemporary Arts Society and Arts & Business). 

The membership of the steering groups can change at any time, so some of those named in the list below may no longer be serving.

East Midlands Visual Arts Network (EMVAN)

Chair; Keith Jeffrey, QUAD, Derby
Coordinator; Elizabeth Hawley
Deborah Dear, Nottingham Castle Museum
Louise Dunning, Derby Museums and Art Galleries
Jim Waters, Nottingham Contemporary
Yasmin Canvin, Fermynwoods, Northamptonshire          
Jeremy Webster, The Collection, Lincoln
Clare Edwards, The Hub, Sleaford
Simon Lake, New Walk Gallery, Leicester
Kathy Fawcett, City Gallery, Leicester
Skinder Hundal, New Arts Exchange, Nottingham          
Lucy Phillips, Leicester Print Workshop
Sally Sheinman, Artist
John Plowman, Artist and Beacon Arts, Lincolnshire     
Saira Lloyd, Artist and curator       
Sarah Reed, ACE East Midlands

Contemporary Visual Arts Manchester (CVAM)

Coordinator; Siobhan Ward, Cornerhouse
Jane Anderson, Cube
Maria Balshaw, Whitworth Art Gallery
Sophie Benson, Manchester School of Art
Jo Clements, Salford School of Art & Design
Clarissa Corfe, Castlefield Gallery
Mark Doyle, Contemporary Art Society (North West)
Sarah Elderkin, Manchester City Council Cultural Strategy Team
Paul Haywood, Salford School of Art & Design
Paul Herrmann, Redeye, The Photography Network
Sara Holdsworth, Manchester Art Gallery
Petra Hoschtitzky, Redeye
Alison Kershaw, Victoria Baths
Ying Kwok, Chinese Arts Centre
Sally Lai, Chinese Arts Centre
Laurence Lane, International 3
Kwong Lee, Castlefield Gallery
Alnoor Mitha, Shisha
Dave Moutrey, Cornerhouse
David Morris, Whitworth Art Gallery
Sarah Perks, Cornerhouse
Michael Simpson, The Lowry, Salford
Virginia Tandy, Manchester Art Gallery
Paulette Terry Brien, International 3
Siobhán Ward, Cornerhouse
Steve Whittle, University of Salford
Tim Wilcox, Manchester Art Gallery
Neil Harris, ACE North West
Helen Weiwora, ACE North West

North by North West (Lancashire and Cumbria)

Chair; Lindsay Taylor, The Harris Museum & Art Gallery
Hayley Skipper, Forestry Commission North West England
Alistair Hudson, Grizedale Arts
Taylor Nuttall, Folly
Richard Smith, Peter Scott Gallery
John Angus, Storey Gallery

Turning Point East (TPE)

Chair; Donna Lynas
Coordinator; Elinor Morgan, Wysing Arts Centre
Kaavous Clayton, Curator
Laura Earley, Firstsite, Colchester
Lib Fox, Focal Point Gallery, Southend
Julia Devonshire, Colchester & Ipswich Museums
Elizabeth Fisher, Kettle's Yard, Cambridge
Dawn Giles, BCA
Harriet Godwin, Norwich Castle Museum
Jacques Rogers, Outpost, Norwich
Jess Kenny, Art Exchange, University of Essex
Matthew Shaul, University of Hertfordshire Galleries
Rosie Grieve, Smith's Row

'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.

Turning Point North East (TPNE)

Chair; Godfrey Worsdale, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead
Coordinator; Julia Bell
Kate Brindley, Mima, Middlesbrough
Ben Ponton, Amino
Paul Moss/Miles Thurlow, Workplace Gallery, Gateshead
Judith King, Independent freelance consultant
Julie Milne, Laing Art Gallery/Tyne & Wear Museums Service
Gillian Nicol/Stephen Palmer, a-n
Helen Ratcliffe/Alan Smith, Allenheads Contemporary Art, Northumberland
Helen Smith, Waygood Gallery and Studios, Newcastle
Clymene Christoforou, ISIS Arts, Newcastle
Jon Bewley, Locus +
Rebecca Shatwell, AV Festival, Newcastle
Grainne Sweeney, National Glass Centre, Sunderland
Jenny Allinson, Newcastle University

Turning Point South East (TPSE)

Chair; Michael Stanley, Modern Art Oxford
Coordinator; Amanda King
Emma Morris, Photoworks
Liz Whitehead, Fabrica
Stefan van Raay:, Pallant House
Stephen Foster, John Hansard Gallery
Mark Segal, Artsway
Kate Adams, Project ArtWorks
Julianne Pearce, Blast Theory
Honor Harger, Lighthouse
Jo Bushnall, Aspex Gallery
Jo Cowan, Quay Arts
Alan Haydon, De La Warr Pavilion
Antony Spiro, Milton Keynes Gallery
Matthew Rowe, Towner Gallery
Victoria Pomery, Turner Contemporary
Kevin Wilson, Artpoint
Sandra Drew, Stour Valley Arts

'TPSW group discussion'

'TPSW group discussion'

Turning Point South West (TPSW)

Chair; Tom Trevor, Arnolfini
Joint Coordinator; Grace Davies
Sovay Berriman, Artist
Carolyn Black, Producer/Artist
Sara Bowler, University College Falmouth
James Green, Newlyn Art Gallery and The Exchange
Marie-Anne McQuay, Spike Island
Jem Main, Big Picture
Tim Martin, Reveal
Paula Orrell, Plymouth Arts Centre
Peter Stiles, Artist
Jacy Wall, Artist
Amanda Wallwork, Artist

Turning Point West Midlands (TPWM)

Chair; Professor John Butler, School of Art, Birmingham City University
Coordinator; Wendy Law
Penny McConnell, Administrator
Elena Cassidy-Smith, Artist
Judith Harry, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham
Corinne Miller, Head of Arts and Heritage, Wolverhampton City Council 
Kate Pryor-Williams (Observer), ACE West Midlands
Heather Rigg, Designer maker
Deborah Robinson, New Art Gallery Walsall
Rhonda Wilson, Rhubarb-Rhubarb
Sarah Shalgosky, Mead Gallery, Warwick University
Nicola Shipley, Arts & Business
Gavin Wade, Eastside Projects

Turning Point Yorkshire & the Humber (TPYH)

Coordinator; Steve Manthorpe
Chris Bailey, Academic
Robert Powell, Beam
Sue Ball, MAAP
Sarah Brown, Leeds Art Gallery
Rick Faulkner, Chrysalis Arts
Clare Lilley, Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Sara Trentham, Independent
Anne Cunningham, The Art House
Laura Sillars, Site Gallery, Sheffield
Chris Bailey, Leeds Metropolitan University
Mark Smith, Axis, Leeds
Laura Turner, York Museums Trust/York Art Gallery
Rachel Howfield Massey, Independent
Steve Pool, Independent
Louise Miller, Fabric/Creative Bradford
Caroline Krzesinska, Art in Yorkshire
Anne McNeill, Impressions gallery
Anna Read, Pavilion, Leeds
Simon Wallis, The Hepworth, Wakefield

Visual Arts London Strategy Group (VALS)

Chair; Sally Shaw, GLA
Coordinator; Lucy Moore
Kate Bush, Barbican
Alessio Antoniolli, Gasworks
Michael Archer, Goldsmiths
Eddie Berg, British Film Institute
Iwona Blazwick, Whitechapel
Erica Bolton, Bolton & Quinn Ltd
David Buckland, Cape Farewell
Jonathan Harvey, Acme Studio
Margot Heller, South London Gallery
Tessa Jackson, Iniva
Emma Kay, Cubitt
James Lingwood, Artangel
Jenni Lomax, Camden Arts Centre
Gregor Muir, ICA
Emily Pethick, The Showroom
Julia Peyton-Jones, Serpentine Gallery
Brett Rogers, Photographers Gallery
Ralph Rugoff, Hayward Gallery
Jane Sillis, Engage
Matthew Slotover, Frieze
Kathleen Soriano, Royal Academy
Polly Staple, Chisenhale
Sarah Tinsley, National Portrait Gallery
Chris Wainwright, Central Saint Martins

Visual Arts in Liverpool (VAIL)

The following organisations are represented on the steering group. This group pre-dates Turning Point and is acting as a vehicle for it in Liverpool.
Chair; Paul Smith, Liverpool Biennale
A Foundation
Ceri Hand Gallery
Liverpool Biennale
National Museums Liverpool
Open Eye
Walker Art Gallery

What do the regional Turning Point groups do?

The regional groups agree their own priorities, practices and activities. They work on projects in their own regions and they collaborate with each other. The National Turning Point Network Coordinator keeps track of activities through the regular updates the groups provide. The paragraphs below are based on updates provided in June 2011 and help to illustrate the kinds of activity the groups are undertaking. The evaluation report contains detailed descriptions of a small number of projects.

Supporting artists

This summer, Turning Point West Midlands (TPWM) has been promoting the degree shows in the region in association with art school marketing departments, with a view to reaching new audiences.

TPWM is producing a fortnightly bulleting of opportunities for artists in the region. 

In May, Turning Point North East (TPNE) organised a two-day Artist Mobility Lab to talk about international cultural exchange and the mobility of artists into the UK. There will be report on the event, that the discussion can be shared more widely.

TPNE is offering Critical Dialogue Bursaries to profile the talent in the region.

Contemporary Visual Arts Manchester (CVAM) has supported a mapping exercise of opportunities for artists' support and development.

Professional development

Turning Point East (TPE) organised Revolve East to promote the exchange of skills. This is the subject of one of the case studies in the evaluation report.

East Midlands Visual Arts Network (EMVAN) organised a trip to Manifesta.

North by North West organised a residential leadership course for 12 of its members.

Turning Point South East (TPSE) is in discussion with Creative and Cultural Skills about opportunities for visual arts organisations to host Creative Apprentices in the South East. 

The evaluation confirms that Turning Point Network members value opportunities to take part in professional development activities with other visual arts organisations.


TPWM is carrying out action research into new business models for artists, 'looking at how value is assigned and how this can translate into business transactions that give greater control and return to the creator'. 

North by North West commissioned James Rebanks to assess the economic, social and cultural impact of its member organisations. The report, Why Art Works, was published in September. 

Susan Royce worked with Network members on her research into business models for the visual arts.

EMVAN did a survey of Regularly Funded Organisations to understand the impact on the sector of the announcement of National Portfolio organisation funding from 2012.  

Critical debate

Visual Arts in Liverpool (VAiL) has funded bursaries, with a-n, to support emerging critics. It has also commissioned writers "to communicate the importance of the visual arts in the city, within the context of civic society".

TPWM has created a gallery showcase on its website to profile some of the best work by artists in the region and has commissioned articles on current issues for the visual arts sector.

Connections and partnerships

TPSW is establishing a partnership with Engage South West, Audiences South West, ALIAS and Curatorial Network to help it deliver the Turning Point programme in the region. 

TPNE commissioned a report to identify new ways of supporting the sector and working collaboratively.

Turning Point East and TPSE are looking at co-commissioning.

CVAM is hosting a series of salon events for artists, organisations and audiences from all three Turning Point sub-regions in the North West. 


Turning Point Yorkshire and Humberside have set up a communications and advocacy sub committee and have contracted a PR specialist to work with them.

TPWM has produced a brochure to promote the visual arts in the region.

VALS evaluated its part in the Save the Arts Campaign (in collaboration with Annabel Jackson Associates) and has been working with the National Coordinator to define the content of the Turning Point national summit in 2012.


EMVAN has organised an international artists in residence project, comprising eight projects designed to develop audiences for the contemporary visual arts.

Research undertaken by Audiences South for TPSE is informing the development of a platform for digital publicity that can be used by TPSE members. TPSE is also working on a gallery/visual arts 'app' for the South East.

Market development

Contemporary Art Society is working with several Turning Point groups. It has completed a scoping study on market development for TPEand has advised TPWM. In the North East and the North West it is running events for current and potential collectors. At national level it has been funded by ACE to promote the collection of contemporary art and to help public galleries develop relationships with local collectors.

The evaluation of Turning Point Network

The independent evaluation of the delivery of the Turning Point strategy has focused on the Network. The outcomes of the wider programme of Turning Point activities supported by ACE have not yet been independently evaluated.

Annabel Jackson Associates were commissioned to evaluate the network in December 2009. Their final report is in two parts. Part One (120 pages) summarises the main findings of the evaluation and presents some case studies of Turning Point activities. Part Two (103 pages) presents some of the evidence collected, including the results of two surveys of members of regional Turning Point groups, one conducted in March 2010 and the second in March 2011. ACE will be publishing a summary of the evaluation report shortly but has generously let us have sight of the full report.

The results of the surveys in 2010 and 2010 provide an overview of what those directly involved in the operation of the network think of its performance. By February 2011, 162 people were serving on the network's steering groups and a reported 2,500 individuals or visual arts organisations had been directly involved in network activities. A much larger number will have benefited indirectly.

The 2010 survey received seventy-five responses and the 2011 survey fifty-five. Most of the results reported here are taken from the 2011 survey, because it is the most recent and because respondents had more experience on which to draw. In 2011 seventy-six per cent of the responses were from visual organisations funded by ACE, twelve per cent from visual arts organisations not funded by ACE, fourteen per cent from museums and heritage organisations, four per cent from other types of arts organisation, four per cent from higher education organisations, four per cent from ACE and two per cent from private sector organisations.

The regional representation was fairly even, with three exceptions: the North West (which includes three sub-regional groups) returned twenty-seven per cent of all responses, the East Midlands 12.7 per cent and the Eastern region 3.6 per cent. The other regions between seven per cent and nine per cent each.

Support for the network

In both surveys, over eighty per cent of respondents said they supported, or strongly supported, the idea of the network. Although the percentage saying they strongly supported the network dropped from 65.3 per cent in 2010 to forty per cent in 2011, the evaluators suggest that this is most likely to have been caused by some respondents' uncertainty about the future role of the network in what they call "the new landscape".

Since the survey was conducted the financial situation has become more precarious for many artists and organisations and their capacity to contribute to the network may have diminished, as they focus on their own immediate needs. With that caveat, the evaluation makes positive reading and includes some useful recommendations about how the network could become more effective.

The value of the network's activities

The survey asked respondents how important to them personally, or to their organisation, six of the network's areas of work were. The table below shows the results from the March 2011 survey. While all areas were thought to be important or very important by most respondents, "joint advocacy with other visual arts organisations" was rated most highly by a significant margin.

Joint advocacy with other visual arts organisations

Very important 63.6 per cent
Important 32.7 per cent
Not really important 3.6 per cent

Continual professional development with other visual arts organisations

Very important 49.1 per cent
Important 43.6 per cent
Not really important 5.5 per cent
Not at all important or not relevant 1.8 per cent

Critical debate with other visual arts organisations

Very important 47.3 per cent
Important 49.1 per cent
Not really important 3.6 per cent

Sharing resources with other visual arts organisations

Very important 43.6 per cent
Important 50.9 per cent
Not really important 3.6 per cent
Not at all important or not relevant 1.9 per cent

Joint programming with other visual arts organisations

Very important 27.3 per cent
Important 50.9 per cent
Not really important 18.2 per cent
Not at all important or not relevant 3.6 per cent

Market development through working with new collectors

Very important 20 per cent
Important 47.3 per cent
Not really important 23.6 per cent
Not at all important or not relevant 9.1 per cent

One of ACE's ambitions was that the implementation of the strategy would help to address the fragmentation of the sector. Asked "Has Turning Point Network strengthened your links with other organisations?" 56.6 per cent of those responding in 2011 said "Yes, definitely" and a further 26.4 per cent said "Yes, probably."

Just over half of respondents thought the network had "strengthened the ability of visual arts organisations to share resources". It has done this by building trust between them and suggesting ways in which resources might be shared. This underlines the point, as the evaluators say, that  "resource sharing cannot be mandated or mechanistically rolled out" but will happen naturally as a result of the relationships built up through the network.

Closer links between organisations is also said to have "strengthened the ability of the visual arts sector to carry out joint advocacy".

More than half of the respondents thought it was too early to say whether the network has "strengthened critical debate in the sector". More than half also thought it was also too early to say whether "the visual arts sector is more resilient as a result of the network", although 23.6 per cent thought it "probably" was and 12.7 per cent thought it definitely was.

The network, while national in its membership, appears to have made less impact on relationships between organisations in different regions. Asked "Has Turning Point Network increased your contact with other regions?", only 16.7 per cent answered "Yes, definitely" and 20.4 per cent answered "Yes, probably". The evaluators emphasise the importance of the network's national events in forging relationships across regional boundaries.

The steering groups: strengths and weaknesses

The surveys identified a number of strengths and weaknesses in the regional steering groups and these clearly vary from group to group. Strengths include the partnership between members, the openness of decision making, flexibility, communication, learning, consultation, action, the benefits to the sector, wide representation of interests on the steering groups, and the quality of the coordinators.

Weaknesses identified include the fact that some groups are still in the early stages of development and are not achieving what they hoped; the time taken to reach decisions; the extent to which the group represents the sector regionally; the capacity of members to contribute; different levels of commitment from members; different views; different levels of experience; some lack of clarity about purpose and procedures; shortcomings in external communications; the challenge of working across a large region; too driven by ACE's priorities; and sustainability.

How Turning Point Network could be more effective

The evaluation report is a thorough piece of work and makes some sound recommendations. It suggests that the network needs to communicate its purpose more clearly to external audiences, that it needs to "have more of an outward face".

It needs to communicate, regionally the specific benefits of being part of a national network.

It needs be clearer about the boundaries between it and other visual arts networks and to forge stronger relationships where they would be mutually beneficial.  It also needs to do more to include organisations, artists and other individuals that may not want to be directly involved in running the groups. 

The network could do more to strengthen links between regions, through the organisation of national events, but in doing so, it needs to ensure that such meetings make the best possible use of participants' time. 

"Increasing understanding of the network will smooth the way for the delivery of plans and projects and help to ensure that audiences and participants are at the heart of the Network."

(Source: Turning Point Network. Final Evaluation Report)

The future

Since April 2011, Turning Point Network has been coordinated by Julia Bell from her base at Baltic. (She is also coordinator of Turning Point North East.) As part of its NPO agreement, Baltic will be responsible for the national coordination of the network until the spring of 2015.

While those directly involved in the regional steering groups have direct experience and knowledge of the network and its plans, some members of the wider visual arts sector (artists, other individuals and organisations) that Turning Point is intended to benefit have found the network hard to track and understand. The Turning Point Network website was not launched until 2010 and it does not provide some of the basic information (such as the membership and activities of the steering groups) that a browser might expect to find. There is a page for each group, but only a few of the groups have a site of their own. There are now plans to improve the content of the site and the knowledge sharing working group has been looking at how regional groups can increase their on-line presence.

Turning Point has been a puzzling name for a visual arts strategy and network, not least because of it is also the name of a long established health and social care charity. A change of name is now being considered.

ACE is now in its fourth year of funding the network and it would like to see it become more financially independent. How this might be achieved is not yet known. From April 2012, only organisations without NPO status will be eligible to apply to Grants for the arts yet, clearly, organisations with NPO status will continue to benefit from the network and its activities. The national network and all but one of its regional groups have no formal legal status, which makes them ineligible to apply to most sources of charitable and public funding. While an individual member organisation can apply on a group's behalf, most organisations are likely to put their own funding opportunities before those of the group.  

The effectiveness of the network depends upon considerable voluntary input from its members. In the current financial climate, whether ACE funded or not, some organisations and individuals may find this an increasing challenge. However, the prospect of an increasingly outward looking and engaged network makes it more likely that artists and organisations will want to work with it, and the more the sector participates, the more effective the network will ultimately be.


1. Arts Council England (2006) Turning Point. Arts Council England: A strategy for the contemporary visual arts in England.

2. Jackson, T, Jordan, M (2006) Review of the Presentation of the Contemporary Visual Arts. Arts Council England

3. ABL (2008) Arts Council England. Visual Arts Sector Toolkit for Collecting Audience Data. Arts Council England

4. Selwood, S (2008) Towards developing a strategy for contemporary visual arts collections in the English regions. Arts Council England

5. Law,W, Fiske, T (2008) Funding Contemporary Art Collections and Collecting in the Regions: Models, Partnerships and International Comparisons. Arts Council England

6. Creative & Cultural Skills (2009) The Visual Arts Blueprint. A workforce development plan for the visual arts in the UK. Arts Council England

7. Annabel Jackson Associates (2010) Turning Point Network Interim Evaluation Report. Arts Council England

8. Royce, Susan (2010) Business models in the visual arts. Draft for discussion

9. Royce, Susan (2011) Business models in the visual arts. An investigation of organisational business models for the Turning Point Network and Arts Council England

10. Annabel Jackson Associates (2011) Turning Point Network. Final Evaluation Report. Arts Council England.

Phyllida Shaw

First published: October 2011

Comments on this article

So what is the next turning point?

posted on 2011-12-30 by Ho Law

Surprise, surprise more than half the allocated funds spent on management of a scheme, groups meeting to discuss and formulate with no outcomes, time running out and nothing concrete and the vast majority of the art sector unaware of it's existence. The list of members are the usual suspects, either organisations who participate to get the inside track on any new funding so they can hoover it up before anyone else, or individuals who can add another line to their CV or feed their personal ego as 'somebody in the art world'. The arts and artist as usual may get some of the crumbs from the table.

posted on 2011-10-09 by Kelvin Harvey

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