Wisely and prudently the Arts Council asked all 'Bridge' organisations to do an 'information gathering' exercise prior to starting work as Bridges in April 2012. This is sometimes referred to as the 'Audit'.
The idea of this piece of work was to try and establish the key needs, issues, concerns and ambitions regarding children and young people's arts and cultural activity across each region.
Our approach in London has been to bring into one place as many of the key pieces of information regarding our sector as possible in the time frame available and to try and get a better sense of what we know and what we don't know (or what we think we know, but we don't really have the evidence for...).
We conducted an exercise looking at available research on young people's engagement with arts and culture in the city – what is useful, what is going out of date, what we can use to benchmark our activity. We conducted a telephone survey of all London boroughs and had meetings with some boroughs. We held four focus group sessions with arts organisations and organised two online surveys (see my other blog for info on this).
Over the next few months we will share this information on our website. As a taster we are putting up a presentation which synthesises some of the key points.
The sector in London is uniquely diverse, large and complex so our first step has been to try and understand the headline figures in regard to numbers of schools, young people and cultural entities. We were hugely helped in this by the Mayor's Education Inquiry which undertook a very useful bit of research into the educational offer and concerns in the city. Some of the immediate challenges and questions that emerged from the work we have done so far are:
- Will we ever really get a comprehensive picture of the cultural offer for young people in London? And should we even try?
- The really difficult times are probably just around the corner – there is a strong sense that the impact of recession and austerity has not yet been felt in its fullest guise – but it is coming...
- Those old questions of quality versus quantity won't go away and schools remain the best route to some form of equality of provision
The first impact of the 'information gathering' has been that we have commissioned a major survey of the extent of cultural provision in all London schools (yes, independents as well) as this came out as a real gap in terms of research. We will return to the survey in our next blog post.