Arts councils, policy-making and “the local”

Victoria Durrer, Abigail Gilmore, David Stevenson

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In the British Isles, national policies for the arts are primarily viewed as the responsibility of arts councils with statutory duties to distribute state funding that meet the requirements of both ’arms-length’ principles and national strategic frameworks. This paper explores the tensions between policy making for the nation-state and for ’the local’ through comparative research on the arts councils (and equivalent bodies) in England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Drawing on policy analysis and in-depth qualitative interviews with senior representatives from these organisations, it explores their notions of, responsibilities to and affiliations with ‘the local’, particularly in relation to institutional partnerships and their perceived relevance to local strategies for the arts. Findings suggest that despite their different models and relationships to the nation-state, and the disparities in the scale of investment, these national policy bodies commonly rely on networked governance to facilitate their relationship to ‘the local’ and reproduce national interests, limiting the localised agency of place-based approaches and contributing to a culture of competition within cultural policy (Mould, 2018).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to) 317-331
Number of pages14
JournalCultural Trends
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 8 Aug 2019


  • cultural policy
  • local authorities
  • arts councils
  • cultural democracy
  • devolution


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