AHRC report sets course for cultural sector recovery

Theater with red seats

Boundless Creativity is the first comprehensive analysis of the impact of COVID-19 and innovations developed in response to the pandemic on the cultural sector.

Developed in partnership with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), it includes specific recommendations for policy and research interventions.

These recommendations will act as a roadmap for cultural and creative recovery, renewal and growth post-pandemic.

Adapting to new challenges

In March 2020, the UK’s theatres, concert halls, festivals, galleries and museums fell silent.

It is a testament to their resilience though that, thanks to game-changing innovations that enabled them to reach audiences throughout the pandemic, they didn’t stay silent for long.

From the livestreaming of ballet into our living rooms to concerts in Epic’s Fortnite, culture during the pandemic has flourished in new forms.

Building a better future

Boundless Creativity outlines how innovations such as these can form the foundation of a stronger, more resilient cultural sector.

The research and development that enabled cultural institutions to continue to reach audiences during the pandemic has the potential to continue to transform industries long into the future.

Boundless Creativity makes several key recommendations that will help ensure this, such as:

  • increasing outreach of UK cultural institutions to global audiences
  • ensuring greater access to digital media platforms for producers and consumers.

Leading industry voices

Boundless Creativity is the culmination of a series of roundtable discussions with representatives from across the cultural and creative sectors, under the guidance of an expert advisory panel.

The panel brought together figures from the UK’s most recognised cultural institutions as well as newly emerging creative and digital institutions and groups.

These included cultural institutions such as:

  • Royal Opera House
  • Royal Shakespeare Company
  • National Gallery and more.

World leading cultural sector

Professor Christopher Smith, Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Executive Chair and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) International Champion, said:

The UK has a world leading cultural sector and the pandemic has shown how it can continue as such on an even greater scale.

This report and its recommendations set a path for a brighter future that will be supported by vital AHRC-funded research.

This won’t just expand a critical sector of the economy – it will deliver meaningful societal impact, from social prescribing to tackling loneliness, depression and deprivation, to healing communities and improving cohesion, resilience and prosperity across the UK.

Targeted research and innovation

Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal Neil Mendoza said:

Our culture and creative sectors are large and fast-growing drivers of the UK economy both internally and as exports.

This joint report (led by DCMS and AHRC) sets out how, with targeted research and innovation, we can go even further.

Drawing on the expertise of globally recognisable cultural and academic institutions, this report tracks innovative responses to the pandemic.

It recommends key areas for research that can help advance the sector for the benefit of everyone regardless of where they live or how they interact with culture.

Adapt and thrive

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said:

Throughout the pandemic the UK’s world-class cultural and creative sectors have shown how innovative and resilient they can be in the face of huge challenges, as well as how vital they are to our economy and communities.

This important report shows how culture can use these experiences to adapt and thrive in the future, as we build back stronger.

Vital contribution

Professor Andrew Thompson CBE, University of Oxford and Expert Advisory Panel Co-chair, said:

The pandemic has brought the true value of our cultural institutions into sharp focus; both in terms of their vital contribution to our economy and their importance to our physical and mental wellbeing.

Despite unprecedented challenges they have adapted and innovated to sustain our national way of life when we have needed them most.

We now have a responsibility to ensure that they are able to continue to play their vital role in society post-pandemic and this report is an important step towards achieving this.

Creative and responsive

Darren Henley, Chief Executive, Arts Council England, said:

I am proud of how the cultural sector has faced the challenges over the past year in a creative and responsive way.

This report clearly demonstrates that if we continue to harness this flexibility and dynamism as we move forward, we can use the arts to challenge perceptions, broaden horizons, form and transform communities, and enable us to flourish as we move forward out of the pandemic.

The creative industries will be an immensely valuable tool in our nation’s recovery.

Further information

Membership of the expert advisory panel

  • Lord Neil Mendoza, Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal (Chair)
  • Professor Andrew Thompson CBE, University of Oxford (Chair)
  • Dr Joanna Abeyie, Blue Moon
  • Professor Helen Chatterjee, University College London
  • Professor Andrew Chitty, UKRI
  • Professor Edward Harcourt, AHRC
  • Imogen Heap, Recording Artist and Tech Founder
  • Dr Chris Michaels, National Gallery
  • Neelay Patel, Digital Theatre
  • Dr Sara Pepper, University of Cardiff
  • Professor Christopher Smith, AHRC
  • Dr Jo Twist, UK Interactive Entertainment
  • John Cassy, Founder and CEO, Factory-42
  • Maria Balshaw CBE, Director, Tate Arts Museums and Galleries.

Full list of contributors to the report

  • Hasan Bakhshi, Director, Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre
  • Alex Beard, Royal Opera House CEO
  • Professor James Bennett, Royal Holloway University
  • Patrick Bradley, Managing Director, Station12
  • Nica Burns, Chief Executive, Nimax Theatres
  • Craig Chettle, Confetti Institute of Creative Technologies, Nottingham
  • Professor Paul Crawford, University of Nottingham
  • Michael Eakin, Chief Executive, Liverpool Philharmonic
  • Phil Edgar-Jones, Chief Executive, Sky Arts
  • Sarah Ellis, Head of Digital Development, Royal Shakespeare Company
  • Nadia Fall, Artistic Director, Theatre Royal Stratford East
  • Dr Daisy Fancourt. University College London
  • Peter Florence, Director, Hay Festival
  • Dominic Gray, Chief Executive, Opera North
  • Cassian Harrison, Senior Vice President of Commissioning and Global Content Services, BBC
  • Victoria Hume, Director, Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance
  • Caroline Jones, Chief Executive, The Story Museum Oxford
  • Anthony Lilley, Magic Lantern Productions
  • Anna Lowe, Co-founder of Smartify
  • Dr Kamal Mahtani, Co-Director of the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine
  • Kate Mavor, Chief Executive, English Heritage
  • Maddy Mills, Artistic Director, Entelechy Arts
  • Caroline Norbury, Creative England, CEO
  • Karen O’Brien, Head of Humanities, University of Oxford
  • Rene Olivieri, National Lottery Heritage Fund Interim Chair
  • Lorna Probert, Producer, Aardman Animation
  • Laura Pye, Chief Executive, National Museums Liverpool
  • Harman Sagger, Head of Analysis, Arts Heritage and Tourism, DCMS
  • Professor Caroline Scarles, University of Surrey
  • Lucy Shaw, Head of Partnerships, Oxford Galleries, Libraries and Museums
  • Dr Martin Smith, Creative Consultant and AHRC Creative Industries Advisory Group
  • Alistair Spalding, Chief Executive and Artistic Director, Sadler’s Wells
  • Nick Starr, Chief Executive, The Bridge Theatre
  • Sean Taylor, Project Director, InGAME
  • Dr Stephanie Tierney, University of Oxford
  • Professor Ben Walmsley, Director, Centre for Cultural Value
  • Jonathan Williams, Deputy Director, British Museum
  • Roger Wright, Chief Executive, Snape Maltings Art Centre.

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