Darren Henley speaks at Family Arts ConferenceDarren Henley at Family Arts Conference

“A really brilliant conference with an extended family of fellow arts believers and collaborators” – Darren Henley, Chief Executive of Arts Council England

Thanks to ACE Chief Darren Henley who travelled 5,000 miles overnight from a previous engagement in Austin Texas to thank Family Arts Conference delegates for the work they and their organisations do for families up and down the country.

He confirmed that Arts Council England want to continue to work with Family Arts Campaign to increase the amount of cultural provision for families, and that families will form an important part of ACE’s investment strategy going forward.

> Watch his speech here or read the transcript below.


Thank you, it is great to be here in the coveted two slots before the trip to the pub presentation slots.  Very, very good.  Thank you for inviting me to be here, I will start by quoting the Proclaimers they said they would walk 500‑miles, I have travelled 5,000‑miles I flew back in from Austin Texas, was there talking about the intersection between arts and technology, arts tech innovation between artists and culture, artists show casing funding and investing a major show case happening in Austin for a little British Jazz Artist.

But to be honest it was something of a Herculean effort.  I was due to fly back via New York, for the keen weather watchers, the winter storm Stella paid to that.  I ended up, coming back via Austin Texas.  I am a bit jet lagged; I am fuelled by caffeine.  There is a risk with the last presentations of the day that the audience starts to fall to sleep.  I think today is a risk that the real risk that the person giving the speech might nod off, Michael please prompt me if you feel I have just dozed off.  I am pleased to be here, wrapping up, which I know has been a really brilliant conference with an extended family of fellow arts believers and collaborators.

As you know, this is the third conference organised by the Family Arts Campaign and this is something that we care passionately about it is a national initiative that does really good work and in the time I have been in the Arts Council it has been a pleasure to see the success of the Family Arts Campaign and the Family Arts Festival.  That festival 3,000 organisations participating, promoting 17,000 events to 2.2 family members, active across the country.  This is a brilliant achievement and it is really important work that we want to mark and to celebrate.

The idea of family has become an ever more important pillar of the work that the Arts Council does along with our many partners here right across the country.  Working with the Family Arts Campaign we want to increase the amount of cultural provision for families we want them to have a better time and be better informed about what there is out there.  The idea of family is to me, is to both powerful and profound.  It is a word that has strong and differing meanings to so many different people, just like the word culture does.  We can talk about the value of the arts in different ways, the value of public investment in arts and culture in terms of educational, creative, economic benefit that is it brings, finding a range of really good quality research and formed academic perspectives to substantiate our arguments.  Jonathan has been sharing some of the information, showing the difference that early engagement with arts and culture can make.  We think that is something that is really important.  We have to stress that importance of early engagement in shaping habits and offering the best chances that arts and culture can bring, it is something that comes up not only with the arts but many other arts development as well.  Educational challenge through which we are working with schools, local authorities and arts organisations to form cultural educational partnership with better joined up provision.

We know what art and culture does for the lives, health and wellbeing of young people, elderly people, the sick and vulnerable.  We know that arts and culture is a good friend to people and it helps them find other good friends.  It brings people together.  It creates unexpected and unorthodox alliances and shared environments.  It does remind us how important that idea of family actually is.  Art and culture makes families.  As I said, families is a powerful word for all of us.  We have to have the definitions that we use on paper but in our own heads the word will conjure up different pictures.  I suspect that very few of us these days will have a picture of the idealised nuclear family.  We want to know what it means for people who live and work together and love and support each other.  Families that span age and ability and are committed to each other and who love and are loved.  It is not always hearts and flowers but that’s family life for you and that’s important for you.  The particular use of the word to describe parents and children is actually relatively modern in its usage.  It’s also a strong sense of describing a shared space, a familiar space that we all recognise and in which we are secure and the original Latin going all of the way back to our Latin from which the word comes from is “famulus” meaning servant and “familiar” meant the domestic staff of the household.  It came to describe a domestic space where trusting relationships of various sorts were formed.  That sense of security and trust is really important.

Later on in English, the word was used in the past to describe those who shared a household, both masters and servants.  One side may be wealthy and one were poor but they relied on each other and they were family.  There is a sense of interdependence on it also.  The word became to describe the idea of a family meaning parents and children or those closely related by blood.  Today we have a really complex and extensive web of familial and social relationships.  My point here is that whatever the shape of your family, the arts can provide it with happiness, with pleasure with things to do together, to create together, and to remember together.  And although the spotlight naturally falls on its young, we are especially interested right now in what the arts can do for older people in the context of the family, how the arts can provide a focus for sustaining and building family bonds across generations.  Art and culture can be that familiar place, that family in which people can find each other.  And I’m very pleased to see how the theme has come very strongly through at this conference.  As our society becomes more diverse, so the family focused work we offer takes on greater importance.  Because it’s engaging with people via the most important unit in their lives and often at their motion needful times.  So we want the work we do to support diversity within the family and to support diverse families.  It was great to hear Nikki Locke from East Durham talking about her work working with diverse families.  I have seen the brilliant work that Nikki and her team were doing in East Durham.  She actually brought this for me; it was a plane I made in the session.  I couldn’t take it home with me because the paint hadn’t dried!  This is my piece of art I made in the last few weeks and I’m very proud of it!  The Arts Council does have this idea of a family and we know that the work we do to support families and we know it will reach young people, vulnerable people and older people.  It will be there for hard working ordinary families and for those who are less fortunate.  In turn, I would say that the family instinct is an important part of how we all think.  It probably informs us in many ways that we don’t even realise.  After all, we run businesses the way we run families.  When you look at the five goals of the Arts Council’s strategy, access, excellent, resilience, skills and diversity, children and young people, they also all have domestic equivalents and together they will make a pretty good plan for family survival.

So what is the Arts Council going to be doing that is of relevance to the family and enhancing that you in the room are already doing?  One thing that has been on my mind recently is this idea of creating a 25 year creative talent plan we have been working on.  Since I came to Arts Council England I have talked about my desire to see us all work together on this creative talent plan.  Such a plan would cut across the usual funding cycles, running from birth to the first 25 years of life.  It would draw together available opportunities, show clear progression routes and direct resources to break down barriers and fill gaps.  I have often said that talent is everywhere but opportunity is not.  And the opportunities that do exist don’t reach many of those most affected by the economic restrictions of recent years.  It isn’t fair.  It doesn’t make strategic sense.  Our creative industries are growing rapidly but our society faces unparalleled challenges that require new creative thinking.  More than ever, we need to draw on all of our creative talent.  I’m really pleased to say that we’ve now started to work on this plan.  It’s going to be a real collaborative partnership.  Our plan has three faces.  In the autumn we will establish a vision and this will lead to a three year pilot programme in Leicester, in which we will look at different approaches with different age groups for children and young people, from zero right the way through to 25.  We will then look to see what we can learn from this and to adopt into a national plan which will then feed into Arts Council England’s ten year strategy that we’ll publish in the autumn 2019 which will in turn work into our strategy and it will live through to 2030.  We have kicked off a series of conversations at our nine offices around the country, where we have invited stakeholders from the arts and cultural sectors to share their perspectives and ideas.  Alongside this, we are conducting a literature review of best practice around the world and setting up an expert advisory group to challenge us along the way.  The 25 year creative talent plan won’t replace Arts Council England’s plan on the cultural challenge.  Instead it will work alongside this and reinforce us with a strong strategic focus in the coming years.  In many ways, Arts Council England must rank amongst the biggest talent agency in the world.  We help provide a huge range of opportunities along with our partners in the room, from cultural education, through to work at our institutions along with investment to start your own creative practice or business.  Just imagine the power of a plan that pulled together these initiatives so that any young person could get the right help at the crucial points in their creative evolution?  It would encompass our works with arts organisations, museums, libraries, schools, artists and universities.  It will be transformative.  Of course, a plan would offer young people to develop their creativity in different ways.  Some might pursue a career in the arts or creative industries or apply their creativity to science and technology.  Some might become cultural leaders.  Others would simply enjoy a more fulfilling life, shared with those around them.  So the family will be a really important part in engagement in this plan as we saw from some of the statistics and figures we’ve just looked at.  It’s going to be absolutely vital to get young people and their parents on board from the earliest stage and to find ways in which we can make the talent plan a familiar space for young and old to come together and enjoy together.

I’d like to finish with a few words about our new chair.  He’s the latest addition to the Arts Council family.  As you know Nick Serota has done a huge amount in making family participation so integral to the brilliant things he’s done at the last 29 years at Tate.  I’m sure, in Nick, the Family Arts Campaign has a new friend at the Arts Council and I know you will see family focused arts and culture at the heart of what we do.  Alongside an increasing explanation of what family means and its ever growing importance to us.  The world needs families today more than ever.  Thank you to all of you for all that you do for families up and down the country.  It really is important work and I know when do you it day in day out sometimes it’s easy to forget that.  It makes a huge difference and you achieve an enormous amount.  It is a really important area for us at Arts Council England as we set our investment strategy going forward.  Thank you for listening to me tonight.

Thank you to Stagetext for providing this transcript.

> Read the full Conference report

31 March 2017