Decision details

Creative Darlington Capacity

Decision status: Recommendations Approved

Is Key decision?: No

Is subject to call in?: No


With the prior approval of the Chair to the matter being treated as urgent the Managing Director submitted a report (previously circulated) advising Scrutiny of the current Creative Darlington Board Resources including current spend and future opportunities.


The submitted report comprised the developing work of Creative Darlington to date, identified current Creative Darlington Board Resourcing and anticipated future opportunities.  It was stated that Creative Darlington was established following an Arts Enquiry process beginning 2010/11 which explored new ways to maintain a vibrant cultural offer in Darlington. The Council committed a Culture and Heritage budget of £100,000 to support strategic development of arts in 2012/13 and Darlington Partnership committed £60,000 to support the transition of arts activity in Darlington.


The Creative Darlington Board which comprises Darlington Borough Council Officers and Members, and other parties from the private, public and voluntary sectors was established in 2011/12 and the Creative Darlington Manager appointed in July 2012.

Creative Darlington has reviewed its strategic priorities and a draft Culture Strategy and action plan has been prepared and will be presented to Cabinet with a request to agree and promote the strategy in 2018/19.  The Council has also committed a Culture and Heritage budget of £101,396 to arts development in 2018/19 which supports Creative Darlington work, including salary and on costs for the Creative Darlington Manager and programme delivery.


Particular references were made to emerging opportunities which included extending the development of Darlington’s reputation as a theatre town, creatively exploring Darlington’s railway heritage leading up to 2025 and opportunities for Darlington to contribute to the Tees Valley UK City of Culture 2025 programme.


The initial priorities of Creative Darlington were to support the transition of arts activity; develop finance for arts activity in Darlington; maximise the sustainable operation of arts assets in Darlington; and audience development.


Details were provided of arts activity support which included management of a budget for the Bridge Centre for Visual Arts building which is now managed by an independent charity; management of the OpenArt Studio programme, an arts and well-being programme focused on adults which concluded in 2015/16; management of the exhibitions programme at Crown Street Library which held its first of 51 exhibitions on 17 May 2012 attracting 126,411 visits, at an average of 2,479 visits per exhibition; management of the Borough Art Collection; and management of a new exhibition programme at Darlington Town Hall where a total of 22 individuals and groups have delivered exhibitions from 14 July 2014 to 19 May 2018.


The Developing Finance for Arts Activity in Darlington scheme was introduced between 2013 and 2016 whereby individuals and groups could apply for support.  Successful proposals were awarded support conditional to them securing additional finance from other sources and approximately £3 of additional finance for arts activity in Darlington was secured for every £1 of Council strategic arts development budget allocated.


To support the development of strategically important arts assets a number of Maximising Arts Assets awards were made to particular organisations or services, to support time limited development activity rather than programme.  Recipients of Maximising Arts Assets awards included Darlington for Culture (for website and membership offer), Darlington Hippodrome (to inform heritage programme development), Humantics CIC (structure and fundraising), ODDMANOUT (structure and brand/website development) and Theatre Hullabaloo (supporting the development of their successful capital programme proposal to Arts Council England).


Creative Darlington also supported a proportion of the research and development and promotion costs for the introduction of a website by The Northern Echo through which individuals, enterprises, groups and organisations could promote eligible cultural activity in Darlington for free.  Programmes which secured profile for Darlington’s cultural offer at local, regional or national levels were also supported and included Festival of Thrift; The Jabberwocky Market; Darlington Arts Festival; IncludFEST Darlington in 2015 and IncludFEST Tees Valley in 2016 and 2017; and Blue Cabin Director Jenny Young to deliver the Head, Heart, Hands Darlington project from April 2016-April 2017 which aimed to create an arts and cultural strategy for looked after children and the adults in their lives.


Creative Darlington commissioned a review of its structure and allocation of resources in 2015/16 which resulted in a greater focus of resources on strategic priorities and less focus on direct delivery.  Creative Darlington extended its remit to the arts, culture and creative work around heritage, and recruited additional board members to reflect this. 


Following withdrawal of the Developing Finance for Arts Activity open application scheme, Darlington for Culture’s small arts grants programme was launched in 2017.  Although the final decision is made by Darlington for Culture the Creative Darlington Manager assesses, and makes recommendations on, proposals seeking support.


Although The Bridge is operated by an independent Charity, Creative Darlington has responsibility for the Council’s Borough Art Collection; managing the exhibitions programme at Crown Street Library and the Town Hall Exhibition space; managing delivery of programmes in receipt of external funding including the Heritage on Track programme; and assessing applications to Darlington for Culture’s small arts grant programme.


Details were provided of Creative Darlington’s strategic work which included supporting sector development; representing Darlington in various Arts and Culture regional and local meetings; facilitating the Creative Darlington Partnership; and commissioning activity for Festivals and Events in Darlington.


Following a review of priorities the Creative Darlington Board now has Darlington as a theatre town; creative exploration of Darlington’s railway heritage; Darlington’s contribution to a successful Tees Valley UK City of Culture programme in 2025; and an excellent, inclusive and accessible cultural offer combining public events, festivals and programmes and targeted activity as its strategic priorities up to 2025.


The proposed Culture Strategy priorities were included following consultation and align with priorities within the Experience Darlington Visitor Economy Strategy 2016 - 2026.  The draft Culture Strategy is expected to be presented for Cabinet approval in 2018/19.


Funding of £10,000 received from Creative Darlington and a Council Grant of £65,000 from Arts Council for England have supported a variety of theatre activity within the Town leading up to the opening of Darlington Hippodrome and Theatre Hullabaloo.  The Council has confirmed a Culture and Heritage budget of £101,396 for 2018/19, £103,033 in 2019/20 and £103,712 in 2020/21 to support arts development and progress Creative Darlington work.


Future requirements and opportunities were highlighted in the submitted report and included considerable progress against the Theatre Town priority building on the ‘pioneering’ work of Theatre Hullabaloo and supporting the developing profile of The Hullabaloo as a national centre of excellence; work around the creative exploration of railway heritage and the approaching bi-centenary of the first modern railway passenger journey which is expected to be a cultural event of national and international significance; leading the Heritage on Track programme, which is one part of the Tees Valley Combined Authority led Greater Tees programme; commissioning original work marking the countdown to the bi-centenary event in 2025 which enhance the public realm and strengthen Darlington’s profile as a railway town, particularly around key rail heritage sites and stations within Darlington; and development of the UK City of Culture 2025 alongside other Tees Valley local authorities.


Following a question it was reported that the Darlington Cultural Volunteers formed a partnership between the Hippodrome and Darlington Creative Board and were an excellent asset of 60 volunteers who undertake a broad spectrum of work and support many events such as IncludFest. 


Discussion ensued on the Council’s involvement with The Majestic Theatre; relocation of the Festival of Thrift; and other Festivals promoting the economy and cultural offer of the Town.  It was also stated that the Creative Darlington Manager now had more opportunity to engage with Tees Valley Combined Authority, focussing on a smaller number of priorities for a larger budget and providing core heater events that will be more sustainable.


The Creative Darlington Manager also advised that the Tees Valley Combined Authority recognised the importance of engaging school children and college and university students and in doing so stated that there was dedicated capacity to work with children at the Museum, Library Service and Hullaballoo.  Durham Music Service played a key role and the Head of Education and Inclusion now sat on the Creative Darlington Board alongside Culture Bridge North East, an organisation that connected cultural organisations and the education sector so that children and young people can have access to great arts and excellent cultural opportunities.


RESOLVED – (a) That the report be noted.


(b) That this Scrutiny Committee welcomes and supports the activities of Creative Darlington.


(c) That a further report be submitted in twelve months’ time detailing the work of Creative Darlington.


Publication date: 16/01/2019

Date of decision: 28/06/2018

Decided at meeting: 28/06/2018 - Place Scrutiny Committee