The Society of Authors (SoA) has responded to Arts Council England’s consultation on its future strategy, saying it would like ACE to do more to increase diversity in the arts, secure the future of the library service and ensure that young people from all backgrounds can engage in cultural activity.
In addition to addressing the current lack of diversity in the arts, which SoA called a "missed opportunity" for the sector to grow its audience, the trade union said it would call on ACE to make support for libraries and school libraries, the teaching of creative subjects, and support for literature and individual authors "central" to its 10-year strategy on which it is currently under advisement.
"We are calling on ACE to do more to increase diversity in the arts, secure the future of the library service and ensure that young people from all backgrounds can engage in cultural activity," said SoA. "The cultural sector and wider creative industries are not representative of society at large. It is widely recognised that action needs to be taken to ensure that England’s culture reflects the diversity of its population."
In support of libraries, it said ACE "needs to work with local authorities to restore library services where they have fallen into decline". The call follows recent analysis of CIPFA data showing spending by public libraries in England on printed books has fallen 20% year-on-year, with the sum now spent on printed books representing just 3.9% of the total taxpayer expenditure on England's libraries. Libraries in schools have also suffered from spending cuts, SoA observed, noting this has "a detrimental impact upon children who have limited or no access to books at home, and widens the gap between the best and the least 'well-educated' and 'well-read'".
In terms of the teaching of creative subjects, SoA said it was "concerned at the considerable drop in the number of pupils taking creative subjects at school". The proportion of 15 and 16-year-olds in England studying arts subjects such as music and drama falling to the lowest level in a decade. "We would like to see Arts Council England do more to make the case to Government about the importance of teaching creative subjects in schools, in order to nurture the creative talent of the future and ensure that young people from all backgrounds have the opportunity to participate in culture and the arts," rallied SoA.
Meanwhile, it continued to lobby for ACE's support of individual authors, complaining that despite authors' "unparalleled contribution" to cultural life in the UK and ACE's total budget of over £1.3bn between 2015 and 2018, only £46m - the equivalent of 3.5% - was expected to be spent on literature. "We would like to see this increased, and to see Arts Council England supporting authors through skills training, school visits, mentoring schemes and funding for prizes. ACE could also provide support for literary festivals, small publishers and wider initiatives around storytelling and reading," it said.
ACE's autumn consultation on its future strategy closes on 2nd January 2019.