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Darren Henley: first public speech

28th May 2015

Thank you for welcoming me to Hull. This is my first major speech as chief executive of Arts Council England. I’m delighted and proud to take on this job. In my first 100 days in the job, I will have travelled the length of the country, visiting towns and cities from Cumbria to Cornwall, talking to our team; to arts organisations and to our friends in local authorities. So far, I’ve seen the challenges we all face. But I’ve also seen the quality of our artistic work in England; the richness of our museums and collections and the imaginative use of our libraries. From a poetry reading in Hexham, to the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon. From Birmingham Opera Company performing in a city centre warehouse, to a day behind the scenes at the London Transport Museum. From the stunning Glenn Ligon exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary, to World Book Night with the inspirational team at Brighton’s Jubilee Library. It’s all emphasised to me how the arts in England make up an extraordinary, interconnected cultural ecology. It’s reinforced my absolute commitment to public investment in the arts, in museums and in libraries. I’m excited to think what more the Arts Council can do to extend this work. So, today, I want to tell you about new investment for artists and organisations across the nation. Investment that will support artistic ambition, strengthen that cultural ecology and enrich our communities. Talent development is very dear to me. I’ve authored national reports on Music Education and Cultural Education. I’m a believer in the mission of our Music Education Hubs. We have incredible creative talent in England. And today I’m also going to share with you my vision for how we can create more opportunities for that talent to blossom. First, I’d like to talk about our work in Hull. It shows how the Arts Council works with communities, and what we can accomplish alongside our partners. I know this city very well, having enjoyed an extremely happy time studying here at the University of Hull more than two decades ago. I know that Hull has achieved much in recent years, culminating in the award of the title ‘City of Culture’ for 2017. Hull may be at the edge of England, but it is at the centre of its history. A great port with a great industrial legacy. This is a real, gritty city; one that prizes self-sufficiency and individual thought. A home to whalers, fishermen, dockers, Quakers, painters, poets and musicians. It’s seen hard times. But it has never lost its creative soul. Now, there is a new spirit in Hull. There’s investment, led by three-hundred-and-ten million pounds from Siemens and Associated British Ports. And there’s the title of City of Culture for 2017. To our friends in Hull – congratulations. It’s been quite a journey. But these good things don’t happen by accident. They happen because of leadership – and partnership. Hull City Council worked with partners from government, from the University and from industry to bring business to Hull. And they worked with the Arts Council. When Hull’s Freedom Festival needed help developing its direction, the Arts Council’s local relationship managers were at hand. It went on to become one of our regularly funded National Portfolio Organisations – and a major visitor attraction. When the recession ended plans to redevelop the Fruit Market, the Arts Council team were here again. Working with our friends in Hull City Council, we helped to turn this into a successful cultural quarter. This burgeoning creative centre needed to be connected to all of Hull’s communities. That’s why Arts Council England awarded £3 million from our Creative People and Places fund to Roots and Wings. Even in difficult times, Hull kept its faith in the arts, so we’ve kept faith in Hull. And this enabled a credible bid for City of Culture. If it’s sustained, this work will ensure that talent does not have to leave Hull. It’s the Arts Council’s ambition to support centres of creative excellence across the country. So artists of all disciplines can live and work in their communities, producing original work that will enrich our national culture. And so that the interchange between our great capital city London and other parts of England can be more mutually beneficial – if you like, more of a two-way street. This is something the Arts Council has been looking at for some time.

Read the full speech on the Arts Council website