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  • Molly Scarborough

What's Next in Dorset?


On Wednesday 14th November I went to a conference about the future of Dorset’s cultural economy hosted by The Arts Development Company (TADC) on behalf of the Dorset Arts Together (DAT) network (a cross-sector network filled with organisations and individuals who champion arts and culture in Dorset).

The day focussed on three main topics of interest:

  • Place Making and the Case for Culture

  • Enterprise, Innovation and Social Investment

  • Workforce Development

And asked questions like:

  • Is there a role for artists, arts and culture in shaping Dorset’s identity, appeal (to attract more people to live and work in Dorset) and boost its economy?

  • How do we become more enterprising in our approach to attracting new and diverse income streams?

  • What are the opportunities in Dorset for repayable loans, blended finance models, philanthropy and social investment models?

  • How can Dorset find new ways of working to encourage a diverse workforce?

  • How can creative thinking help us to welcome a wider range of staff?

There were presentations from Diverse City, Arts Council England, the new Dorset Council Chief Executive, Live Theatre (Newcastle Upon Tyne) and Culture+ (TADC).


To begin the day Jamie Beddard, Co-Artistic Director of Diverse City, brought our attention to the following Chinese Proverb:

“Before you plan to improve the world, look around your house three times”

– Chinese Proverb.

And challenged us, the organisations and individuals in the room, to employ and work with Unexpected Leaders – Leaders who aren’t the usual suspects, leaders who have faced challenges and leaders that bring diversity to Dorset.

A Chinese Proverb that sums up my learning from the DAT event would be:

“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still”

- Chinese Proverb

Both Sarah Crown (Arts Council England) and Jim Beirne (Live Theatre) merited the benefits of thinking and planning long term.

“There is an advantage of thinking long term” – Jim Beirne.

Sarah highlighted that having at 10 year strategy at the Arts Council helps to create lasting and effective long term change.

Quite provocatively, Sarah suggested that a lot of cultural organisations are in fragile positions. She commented that Arts & Culture are good at being responsive but aren’t so good at planning far enough ahead.

Are organisations in fragile positions due to a lack of sustainable income? Grants? Funds? How can we plan 10 years ahead like the Arts Council without the guaranteed income?

Some solutions to these thoughts were perhaps provided during Jim’s presentation.

Jim whizzed through the extent of Live Theatre’s building assets and how they’ve made use (and money!) from running restaurants, pubs and more.

But as a mainly Outdoor Arts county is this something we would pursue? And where?

Is there a way to create substantial income / revenue without owning a building? Most examples I’ve seen all revolve around building ownership and renting out shared spaces.



Throughout the day we unveiled a clear and collective need to make the case for culture to our local authorities – particularly the two new authorities that will come into being in April 2019.

Matt Prosser, the Chief Executive of the new Dorset Council told us to “Think big and act local”.

Cultural organisations / bodies / practitioners / artists need to create relevant work. Relevant to people and place. Places are filled with people and we need to cater to that. Our work needs to be authentic and relevant to the people in the places we are making the work.

How do we ensure the arts and cultural activity doesn’t gentrify the area we are working in?


We all need to take responsibility for advocating for the arts

Create time to reflect

Create more entry level jobs by breaking down new job roles (or even current job roles) into a few different job roles that can be undertaken by someone new to the scene.

The sector’s workforce expectations should reflect the reality of the sector – part-time and flexi working.

We’re in Dorset. Some places can be hard to get to. Far to go. There is quite often an expectation to be somewhere for a meeting. An expectation to drive. We need to come up with creative solutions to tackle this. Perhaps a digital solution.


As cultural organisations / bodies / practitioners / artists we need to be braver and bolder in announcing ourselves as businesses. We need to be clearer about our resources and advocate the skills we are able to provide other sectors. We have networks, we have audiences, we have assets. We need to own these and share them.


  • Work with unexpected leaders

  • Think big, act local

  • Respect flexi-working

  • Make space for new talent

  • Plan ahead

  • Make use of your assets to generate sustainable income

Want to get involved in the solutions? Live in Dorset and not signed up to the DAT newsletter yet? Head over to TADC website and sign up at the bottom of their homepage. For a more detailed and accurate summary of the event see TADC's blog post here or their full report here.

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