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Hearts for the Arts 2021 – National Campaign for the Arts

Hearts for the Arts, now in its fifth year, is about championing the best of arts provision at local government level. There is perhaps less of it at the moment, partly because every council has finite resources and has redirected funding and staffing towards responding to the coronavirus pandemic, and partly because funding for local government (and therefore for arts initiatives conducted by local government) has significantly reduced in recent years.

Andy Dawson with a student from the Able Orchestra, Photo Credit - Mark Allsop.
Andy Dawson with a student from the Able Orchestra, Photo Credit – Mark Allsop.

There are, as the National Campaign for the Arts’ chairman Samuel West pointed out, a number of reasons why arts provision at this level is important. For one thing, there is a boost to people’s physical and mental health that can be gained by those who engage with the arts – it has the power to keep people healthy and whole. Secondly, it is also a way to generate revenue streams for cash-strapped councils and local economies: the financial contribution the arts sector makes, both directly and indirectly, is very substantial. Thirdly, many of the initiatives engage with younger people, and it is a way to plan and encourage the future of the arts.

Hearts for the Arts has gone for multiple winners for its Best Arts Project award this year. Some winners, such as Mole Valley District Council’s Arts Alive Festival, this year renamed Arts E-Live, emphasised the capabilities of online provision. The first time the contributors to the festival were asked if they were prepared to do online productions and events, there was a significant degree of reticence: later on, as the lockdown went on, faced with going digital or cancelling altogether, there was a greater willingness to try to make it work. The festival’s website was revamped, and a YouTube channel was started. There were, inevitably, groups that could not meet, such as choirs and orchestras, but the festival still managed over fifty events in the month of October 2020.

Haringey Council contributed to N17, a ninety-minute radio show produced by Roughhouse Theatre and created by students of Harris Academy Tottenham, two of whom, Chloe and Kane, carried out interviews with members of the Windrush community and their descendants in their local area.

Produced to coincide with Black History Month last year, the show is still available to listen to on Mixcloud, and is an excellent demonstration of how local people can effectively engage with their heritage.

For the London Borough of Wandsworth Arts Service, however, a distinctly offline provision was equally worthy of an award. Create & Learn PlayKits, containing pens, paper and other craft materials, a booklet of creative activities and a newsletter giving details of other arts activities available elsewhere. Sponsors included Putney High School, construction giant Kier Group and the supermarket Asda, whilst the public contributed £17,500 through a Crowdfunder campaign organised by Battersea Arts Centre. About 5,780 packs have been distributed to children across Wandsworth to date.

The Best Arts Champions this year have been doing what they do for some time. Best Arts Champion – Local Authority or Cultural Trust Worker, Andy Dawson of Inspire Youth Arts, oversees, amongst other things, the Able Orchestra, which alongside professional musicians, includes young people with moderate to profound disabilities from special educational needs schools and colleges in and around Mansfield. The orchestra has even performed at the Royal Albert Hall as part of BBC Proms 2016. Dawson’s reasons for doing what he does, he says, include innovation, inclusion, innovation, impact, ambition, authenticity, mentoring and support, partnerships with others in the community and the creation of great art with young people at the centre of all his team do.

Councillor Janet Emsley from Rochdale Borough Council was awarded Best Arts Champion – Councillor. A champion of the arts in her area, Emsley was instrumental in bringing Dippy the Diplodocus, a life-sized dinosaur cast from London’s Natural History Museum to the North West of England. Over 120,000 people saw Dippy at Number One Riverside, the council’s office building, between February and December 2020. Emsley has retained the culture portfolio during her time as a councillor, having joined Rochdale Borough Council in 2014, and enjoys the challenges and responsibilities of influencing and connecting people.

Chris Omaweng

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The judging panel was as follows:

  • Le Gateau Chocolat, drag artiste and cabaret performer
  • Helen Czerski, physicist, oceanographer, television presenter
  • Mariella Frostrup, Journalist and Broadcaster
  • Paul Hartnoll, musician, composer, founder member of Orbital
  • Adrian Lester CBE, actor and director
  • Francesca Martinez, comedian, writer, actress
  • Petra Roberts, Cultural Development Manager, Hackney Council (2020 winners for the Windrush Generations Festival)
  • Samuel West, actor, director, Chair of the National Campaign for the Arts

Hearts for the Arts

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