£2m arts and culture funding secured for Blackburn with Darwen

Published Friday 4 November 2022 at 11:55

The leader of Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council has today welcomed a £2m boost for the boroughs arts, culture and creative industries.

Arts Council England announced the funding allocation for its prestigious National Portfolio Organisations today, with Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, National Festival of Making, British Textile Biennial and Culturapedia each receiving an allocation of the overall total.

The borough’s four organisations have been granted the cash after applying for an exclusive three-year funding investment programme, from 2023 – 2026, with the total amount awarded being £2,004,000.

These investments come off the back of sustained partnership work and strategic decision-making with the aim of cultivating a more vibrant, thriving arts scene across Blackburn with Darwen.

Councillor Phil Riley, Leader of Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, said:

This is such fantastic and welcome news for Blackburn with Darwen.

The Council embarked on a programme of developing the creative arts offering within the town some years ago, and we are incredibly proud to have multiple world-class arts organisations now call our borough their home. To have this important and sustained partnership work acknowledged and invested in by the Arts Council is just brilliant.

The programmes delivered by these organisations not only shines a spotlight on our town’s distinctive creative energy and making heritage, it also brings residents together in a unique way, creating long-term cultural impact within our communities.

To now have a total of five National Portfolio Organisations within our borough, with these four joining Super Slow Way, is a very impressive figure, which further demonstrates Blackburn with Darwen as a culturally thriving town worthy of significant national recognition.

Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery has been long established within the borough, integral to providing year-round arts and heritage activity for residents of the borough and beyond. The Museum works closely with local schools, charities and stakeholders to develop a distinctive and relevant programme that ensure everyone has access to free and high-quality cultural events on their doorstep.

The next three years of funding, amounting to £440,000, will allow Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery to reshape its narrative in conjunction with local audiences, asking how it can be a more inclusive and relevant space that reflects the changes in society around it whilst still respecting the heritage it holds.

Arts and Heritage Manager for Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, Rebecca Johnson, said:

As one of the first purpose-built museums outside of London in 1874, Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery’s aim was to bring culture to the people of the borough.

As we reach our 150th Birthday, we are absolutely thrilled to be able to grow our activities and outstanding collections in partnership with our local communities by becoming part of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio.

We will continue to tell the story and history of the borough, and indeed begin shaping our future, through collaborative work across Blackburn with Darwen.

In 2017, the National Festival of Making burst onto the streets of Blackburn, attracting thousands of visitors from across the UK and delivering an award-wining programme of making workshops, residency programmes and exhibitions.

From the BBC Introducing takeover in Cathedral Square, to an acid-house rave along the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, to a 1000m2 ‘walk-in rainbow’ in Corporation Park (to name just a few!), the breadth of activity over the last six years has been incredible, animating spaces and venues across Blackburn.

Of the announcement, Jamie Holman, Chair of the Board of Directors for National Festival of Making, said:

This decision is testament to the collective ambition and hard work of the team, Directors and Board at the National Festival of Making and evidence of the commitment from Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council and other strategic partners who have been visionary in supporting this process both in the planning and with financial contribution.

We have collectively witnessed the enormous growth of Blackburn’s local cultural ecology in recent years, and that is now even further enhanced with strategic and significant Arts Council National Portfolio Investment.

The borough has also played host to the British Textile Biennial since 2019, a spotlight on the nation’s creativity, innovation and expression in textiles against the backdrop of the impressive infrastructure of the cotton industry in Pennine Lancashire. The Biennial is produced by Super Slow Way – another of the now five NPO’s working in Blackburn with Darwen.

The impressive exhibitions delivered have brought global brands and names to our humble market towns – including a 50-year archive exhibition from luxury Italian sportswear designers C.P. Company in Darwen Market and the launch of a ‘Blackburn’ addition from mega-brand Adidas Spezial, which was founded by proud Darrener Gary Aspden.

Laurie Peake and Jenny Rutter, Co-Directors of British Textile Biennial, said:

We’re absolutely delighted to be one of a range of great organisations in East Lancashire to be awarded NPO. This puts us on a great footing for BTB2023, which is already shaping up to be the most exciting programme yet.

Culturapedia have also received a portion of funding, an organisation who work creatively with people to give ideas legs. They engage in community-focused curation, commissioning and participation, whether in local and accessible spaces or online, with the ambitious aim of facilitating human evolution through creative encounters.

The work highlighted here is just scratching the surface of Blackburn with Darwen’s ever-growing cultural landscape – with other likeminded organisations such as The Making Rooms, The Bureau, Cotton Exchange, Darwen Library Theatre, Sunbird Records and King George’s Hall all contributing to the hot-bed of exciting and innovative activity taking place.

Cllr Phil Riley added:

We really look forward to what the next three years of collaborative arts work across Blackburn with Darwen will bring.

Having high-quality cultural activity and spotlighting our boroughs creative talent is an essential ingredient for success in our towns, and it has been proven time and time again that arts activities have the power to reignite town centres and bring communities together.

We will continue to strategically support these organisations and place culture and creativity at the heart of our ambitious growth vision and town centre development programmes in Blackburn with Darwen.

A massive congratulations and thank you to everyone involved, it is much deserved.

It was recently announced that Blackburn with Darwen is one of 54 priority areas across England that the Arts Council want to develop new opportunities for investment, as part of their ‘Let’s Create’ strategy.

Sarah Maxfield, Arts Council England’s North Area Director, said:

This announcement marks a new chapter for the Arts Council’s work in the North, with a stronger focus on ensuring there are opportunities for people from all backgrounds to enjoy creativity and culture, particularly in places where there have previously been fewer opportunities to get involved in arts and cultural activities.

As well as having a direct impact over the next three years, this investment will provide foundations we can build on in years to come, as we look to create a country where each person can enjoy arts and culture and explore their creative talents, and strengthen the North’s position as a world centre of art, culture and the creative industries.

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