In the same week that Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, outlined more funding cuts for English councils in 2013-14 and provided 50 money saving tips while he was at it, Leeds City Council has announced the creation of 14 new jobs focusing on community outreach and engagement.
The roles include three audience development officers, six community engagement officers and positions in fundraising, marketing and education. At a time when many local authorities are cutting funding to the arts, the news offers a glimmer of hope for the sector and shows just what benefits can be reaped from sustained investment in and commitment to a city’s cultural programme.
The jobs are funded as part of a three-year grant totalling £5.1m, awarded to Leeds Museums and Galleries as part of ACE’s Renaissance programme. The grant (which accounts for around 35% of the net annual costs of running the service) boosts the council’s direct investment in the arts and rewards its entrepreneurial approach to income generation – which has included the development of new gift shops and cafés across three of its sites – as well as its partnership working.
More than £1.68m has been spent this year on renovations and improvements, including restorations to the sculpture displays at Leeds Art Gallery, the Drawing Room at Lotherton Hall, and a spinning mule at Leeds Industrial Museum.
A picture-lending scheme, which allows visitors to borrow works from the Leeds Art Gallery collection for £4 per week, is a new audience-boosting initiative. The service’s other work encompasses education and skills programmes, apprenticeship opportunities and other socially engaged projects – for example the Reminiscence Service involves lending museum objects to local care homes to help in the treatment of dementia sufferers.
“Different councils have different priorities,” says John Roles, Head of Leeds Museums and Galleries, “but here we don’t just see our museums and galleries as tourist attractions – we understand that we have a social remit as well, to make these spaces relevant to local communities.”
“It’s a difficult time for us all, and we have weathered our fair share of cuts,” he says, “but we are definitely not ‘doing a Newcastle’.”
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