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New report – Local commissioners should work more with arts and cultural organisations to solve social problems, but a bold new approach is needed

Local government and local health commissioners are under growing pressure to solve social problems. Arts and culture organisations can play a much more central role in helping to address these problems, according to a new report published today. The NPC-authored report, produced as part of the Cultural Commissioning Programme, argues that commissioners and cultural organisations alike must be bold in seizing this opportunity.

The Cultural Commissioning Programme is a partnership programme led by NCVO with NPC and nef. It is a collaboration to boost commissioning from arts and cultural organisations to deliver effective public service outcomes.

The report Opportunities for alignment is published today (6 June). Funded by the Arts Council, it includes new data from a survey of 240 arts and cultural organisations and analysis of charitable arts and cultural organisations based on the data from NCVO’s charity almanac. The report finds that:

  • Some local commissioners see the potential of arts and cultural organisations to help tackle issues like social isolation, poor mental health and low school attainment. But arts and cultural organisations do not engage in commissioning to their full potential, and it remains a largely untapped resource.
  • Many commissioners would be open to learning more about the social value that arts and culture activities can bring, but often feel that these organisations struggle to provide evidence of how their work will deliver on the commissioner’s priorities.
  • Many arts and cultural organisations, meanwhile, feel that commissioners are not familiar enough with the unique work they carry out, and find it difficult to fit in with restrictive commissioning guidelines. They argue that commissioners need to be much more flexible about understanding their potential to address social problems in new and innovative ways.

Opportunities for alignment argues that if commissioners work more effectively with arts and cultural organisations there will be benefits both in terms of the outcomes for people and communities, and in terms of opportunities for arts and cultural organisations to diversify their income streams and improve their own resilience.

Sally Bagwell, Senior Consultant at NPC and one of the authors of Opportunities for alignment, said:

‘With no sign that pressure on local and health authority funding is going to lift any time soon, commissioners must be bold when thinking about new ways to fund solutions to social problems.

‘Our research suggests that arts and cultural organisations can help deliver some of those solutions, and at the same time secure the sort of funding necessary to thrive in the years to come. But the commissioners and arts and cultural providers need to understand each other a lot better.

‘Commissioning won’t be the answer for all arts and culture organisations, but it is clearly an opportunity for some. We would encourage arts and culture groups to work more closely with local commissioners on finding lasting solutions to social problems’.

Jessica Harris, Cultural Commissioning programme manager at NCVO, said:

‘There is much to be gained from public service commissioners working with arts and cultural providers, since they reach and engage communities through innovative and creative approaches.

‘We’ll be using the next two years to bring commissioners together with arts and cultural organisations, helping to strengthen relationships and shared understanding.’

Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chair of Arts Council England said:

‘Arts and culture already make a major contribution to a better quality of life, wellbeing and healthier communities.

‘This report is all about more effectively connecting those who apply for commissions, and those who allocate grants. I welcome it as an important step for Cultural Commissioning’.

Opportunities for alignment underpins a programme of support for the arts and cultural sector and public service commissioners which the Cultural Commissioning Programme will deliver. From 2014 to 2016, the programme will work with arts organisations, museums and libraries, with commissioners and with policy makers to strengthen the environment for cultural commissioning, and to bring these sectors together. It launches this programme with two national seminars (6 June, London and 10 June, Doncaster), a learning programme for arts organisations, museums and libraries, and two pilots with commissioners to test and develop their commissioning of cultural organisations.


Notes for editors

  1. the report opportunities for alignment is published today. download the executive summary (pdf, 110kb) , download the full report (pdf, 2mb)
  2. arts and cultural organisations are defined in the report as charities, social enterprises, for-profit organisations, museums and libraries, all of which can play a valuable role in addressing social challenges and delivering public services.
  3. for further information from npc, contact russell hargrave, media manager, on 07770 729557 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; for further information from ncvo contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit:
  4. the programme is being delivered by a partnership of ncvo (lead partner), npc and nef.
    the work of the programme is steered by an advisory group, chaired by lord bichard. other members include: david cutler, director, baring foundation; richard hunt, head of service development - culture, sport & communities, suffolk county council; charlotte jones, chief executive officer, independent theatre council; tim joss, director of the rayne foundation; carol lake, head of corporate responsibility, jp morgan; toby lowe, chief executive of helix arts; sandy nairne, director of the national portrait gallery; robin simpson, chief executive of the voluntary arts network; ian watson, lancashire cultural services, lancashire county council; charlotte weinberg, executive director of safe ground; jo johnston, team leader, cultural partnerships, manchester city council; reuben kench, head of leisure & culture, stockton-on-tees borough council; julia mason, families & children's public health commissioner, tri-borough.
  5. npc (new philanthropy capital) is a charity think tank and consultancy which occupies a unique position at the nexus between charities and funders, helping them achieve the greatest impact. it is driven by the values and mission of the charity sector, to which it brings the rigour, clarity and analysis needed to better achieve the outcomes we all seek. it also shares the motivations and passion of funders, to which it brings its expertise, experience and track record of success.
  6. arts council england champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. between 2010 and 2015, it will invest £9 billion of public money from government and an estimated £1 billion from the national lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.
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