Birmingham Cultural Investment Enquiry

Birmingham Cultural Investment Enquiry is a collaborative exploration of new opportunities for investing in the arts and culture sector to sustain and grow the city’s vibrant cultural offer.  Working together, the partners (including Aston Business School, Birmingham City Council, Culture Central, Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce and Arts Council England) will draw heavily on the commercial and analytical skills of the city’s business community, as well as national and international exemplars, to explore the potential for new models of investment to support the city’s arts & culture offer and deliver on future ambitions.  

The first phase of the Enquiry is taking place over three months to June 2016.  It will consider and review potential for investment linked to city growth, through public and private sources, and is expected to produce outcomes which are transferable nationally.  The private, public, cultural and wider third sector are all encouraged to play an active role and the Enquiry welcomes input from the widest range of interested parties by email to and twitter @bhamcultenq.  

A series of discussion events is planned the first of which took place on 26th May 2016.

Open Meeting Summary Report - 26th May

To receive details of progress or to send us your ideas please email your details to or follow us @bhamcultenq

.Click here to read the Cultural Investment Enquiry final report


Setting out the scope and purpose of the Cultural Investment Enquiry.


At the end of March the CEO’s and Chair’s of the major cultural institutions met with the Leader and Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council to further explore a conversation about the future investment models for the cultural sector in the city. At its simplest this arises from the City Council’s need to further reduce its own current investment in the cultural sector on a declining trajectory from c. £6million to a potential £0 in the next few years.

This is, of course, only the basic story. There are now two counter narratives running in Birmingham and other cities about the value of culture at city scale. Birmingham is a global city and culture will need to be at the heart of its global competitiveness. Culture and creativity will be a major employer, social innovation tool, wealth creator and must be the cornerstone of the city’s strategy to attract and retain talent and secure the city’s national and global position as a word class destination.

The major cultural institutions alone are a £100million business sector and if combined with the 55,000 people working across the cultural and creative industries the city has a very strong story to tell. The Cultural Investment Enquiry is a vital opportunity to bring together the extraordinary levels of commercial acumen and entrepreneurship now embedded in the sector with the new and emerging freedoms and powers of local government to create a new way of delivering and developing cultural investment in the city. This must be a highly practical and ‘step change’ moment for the sector and the city.









Creating a culture of change.

Whilst much of the Enquiry must be about the details of exploring new technical approaches to investment (literally finding new ways to invest real cash for long term returns) it must also be about a culture of change and a change of culture.

The old models of public sector patronage have been shifting in recent years away from direct provision and towards an enabling approach. This has been accelerated by the national approaches to austerity and the on going reform of the public sector. Equally the cultural sector has had to respond by becoming more entrepreneurial, more alert to its community purposes and more diverse in its approaches to creativity and delivery. This is equally true in the radical behaviours of micros/ SME’s in the creative sector as it is in the shifting business models of the major institutions. This Enquiry represents an important opportunity to step outside of the old behaviours and create a new culture for culture.

This new culture must blend the new business and financial models of the creative industries with a reformed public sector model and capture the breadth and depth of the new ways of working at institutional level. This is a big opportunity for the city to think and act collectively in an unconstrained manner to achieve significant change. It is about all sides behaving differently.

What is the starting point?

In line with the above it would be simple to think that this is about ‘filling’ the funding gap from the City Council. Many recent reports indicate that Birmingham is a city that is aware of the value, scale, importance and dynamism of the cultural and creative sector. These two things must be held in balance. That is the first starting point.

Secondly it must be recognised that this is not a new conversation. There has been much talk about the new powers of local government to act in an entrepreneurial manner. These discussions often focus on business rates retention or other ways of achieving value from the Council’s asset base and local powers (from CIL to BIDS to developer contributions or pension funds). In Birmingham this has been variously described as the ‘cultural pound’. It must be helpfully acknowledged that these ideas have not yet been fully explored and the efficacy, legality and financial technicalities will need to be worked through and will require both legal and government advice. They are also not conversations unique to the cultural sector and we must look to our colleagues in the health, housing and third sectors (to name a few) for advice and good practice.

Thirdly it is important to recognise that the cultural sector has not been passive in the face of these new challenges. In aggregate terms over 60% of income in the major cultural institutions is now earned through commercial and entrepreneurial activity. This has been achieved through strong and refocused leadership, by leveraging the non arts (e.g. hires/ conferences etc.) capabilities of their building and by continuing to provide an exceptional programme of cultural activity marketed with increasing efficacy and ingenuity.

In short, the last few years have seen all parties reinvent their methods of working. The existing models have been extended and modified with much success. This review recognises that another step change is now required that will demand new ideas, new leadership and another galvanising of energy.

How will the Enquiry be conducted?

This is not a formal Enquiry with a prescribed structure. The proposal is to make it a creative and practical Enquiry. A small steering group (BCC, ACE, Aston Business School, Culture Central and Chamber of Commerce) will meet on a fortnightly basis.

April: As a first step the steering group will identify a long list of potential investment options. The idea is to seek as many inputs as possible. We have already asked the organisations themselves and the Arts Council are looking nationally at best practice. We will use the local government networks and seek ideas from other sectors. We will ask our colleagues in business and we are identifying a list of external experts that we can take advice and ideas from. Importantly we will also be looking internationally.

May: As part of this initial fact and ideas gathering we are inviting input from as wide a range of people as possible. We will have a three week online call for ideas from the xx of May and then we will hold an Enquiry charterer on the xx of May to bring these ideas together, to invite expert comment and begin an important process of prioritisation and to determine those ideas that need to progress to a technical assessment.

June: We will establish a few key lines of enquiry drawn from the long list of ideas. We anticipate the need to bring in technical, legal and financial advice at this stage to determine the efficacy and detail of the proposals. At this stage we will also begin to determine the timing and impact of the main ideas and what decision making and leadership will be required to implement them.

Reporting: By the end of June we will have an initial report. The report will be used to promote the necessary understanding and decision making in the cultural institutions (who will receive the report through their own governance mechanisms) and through the appropriate Council decision making and leadership committees.


The steering group recognises the need to engage fully with the sector and this will be a major part of the activity in May. We will also put in place a series of informal networking sessions, the use of social media and a combined communications effort to make this happen. We will also utilise a number of existing forums to share current ideas and keep people up to date.

In summary.

The Cultural investment Enquiry is a practical exercise in deciding the potential for new investments in the cultural and creative organisations and assets of the city. It is not a policy discussion or a redrafting of a strategy- these contexts already exist. The Enquiry is entirely focussed on exploring and creating pragmatic ideas and creating a clear understanding of the steps needed to implement them.