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Good things can happen in the arts

Arts Council England's chief executive Darren Henley discusses the sector at a time of huge funding pressure

Performers at Birmingham's International Dance Festival

Arts Council England announced the appointment of Darren Henley as its new chief executive at the end of 2014, succeeding Alan Davey who left the post after seven years. Here, Mr Henley writes for the Birmingham Post about arts groups and cultural organisations in the West Midlands at a time of huge funding issues in the creative sector.

Since I joined the Arts Council, I have travelled the length and breadth of the country, meeting artists, arts organisations and cultural institutions, including those in Birmingham and the West Midlands.

I've revelled in the quality of artistic work in England, in the richness of our museums and collections and the imaginative use of our libraries. I've seen the transformation that the arts can bring to our schools, to our villages, towns and cities.

I'm excited to think about what the Arts Council can do to help rejuvenate more communities, support more ambition to secure the quality and originality of our national art and culture.

Good things don't happen by accident, they happen because people share a vision and work together to make that a reality.

In Birmingham, we've worked with the city's leaders, artists and local enterprise partnerships to help the arts and cultural sector to thrive.

Investment in the creative industries and collaborations between organisations, producers, artists and venues, are all creating conditions for talent and ambition to flourish.

Birmingham's abundance of arts and culture is the jewel in its crown.

Established names attract international acclaim to the city - the wonderful Birmingham Royal Ballet and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra to name just a few.

While the popular City of Colours festival and Hippodrome's Four Squares Weekender have brought art out of the theatre and gallery and on to the streets for people to enjoy.

Now a hotspot where creative, digital and media businesses take root, Digbeth has the arts right at its heart.

Artist-led spaces in the area, like Grand Union, are creating real opportunities for artists to live and work. The Custard Factory is home to a thriving community of arts companies, and innovative new spaces like Birmingham Open Media are giving artists, producers and makers an exciting place to explore art, science and technology.

Birmingham is a place where talent and excellence are thriving, and where people from the city's many communities can enjoy opportunities to take part in the richness of the art and culture on offer.

It was a privilege to see the city's residents take to the stage with Birmingham Opera Company in a powerful and personal production of The Ice Break, and hear about the community Craftspace is creating for refugee, migrant and newly arrived women in the city.

At the Arts Council we want to see this work, and our support of it, repeated in more towns and cities across England.

We are making a promise, that by 2018, at least 75 per cent of our National Lottery money will be invested outside of London. This is a significant acceleration in our investment outside the capital, at a time when funds are tight. It's an important step forward in making sure that we have the best possible distribution of arts funding across the nation.

There won't be a one-size-fits-all approach. We'll do it in ways that suit each area, using our local knowledge, and building on what is already happening with our current investment and support.

Our Birmingham-based team is already working with the city council to invest in plans to produce a festival programme which offers something for everyone, from film and illustration, to literature and music, circus and theatre.

And we remain committed to making Birmingham a centre for dance. Over the next three years we'll continue to invest in the International Dance Festival Birmingham.

Our work developing talent begins with funding for children and young people in and out of school; through the opportunities we offer to young people to make the arts a part of their lives, as artists or audiences.

I would like to think that in Birmingham, a child will be able to grow up and enjoy the opportunities the arts offer as never before – and when that child has talent, that it will have the chance to blossom and have choices that were never available in the past.

At the moment, creative talent is everywhere, but opportunities for that talent to reach its potential are not.

We hope that the Government is able to preserve the funding for arts and culture in this country on a national level, but we also need the support of our colleagues in local government.

Your local authority is the biggest investor in art and culture in the area and if this funding is withdrawn, irreparable damage will be done to the city.

We believe that great art brings opportunities educationally, socially and economically for us all and the diversity of our local communities is important to our future.

We want the arts to be a part of everyday life, so that no matter who you are or where you live, you too can celebrate the arts and culture on your doorstep.

Darren Henley, chief executive, Arts Council England

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