Carnival. Photo: Dan Coates
The question What Next? was originally asked publicly by David Lan, formerly Artistic Director of the Young Vic, and a large number of other arts and cultural professionals in March of 2011.
Colleagues wanted to ask the government what its strategy and plan for culture was, once the immediate cuts and austerity measures were put in place due to the recession and banking crash. Would the government restore funding for the arts once the economy recovered or was retrenchment an ideological decision?
The conversation was picked up again in 2012 when a small group began meeting in London at the Young Vic every Wednesday morning at 8.30am. It was felt that a new way of working might be possible; a mature dialogue on the issues facing arts, culture and society without the sector reverting to self-interest or falling back on the same old arguments.
A National conference was held in 2013 to propose the beginning of a National movement urging colleagues across the country to start having their own local regular meetings. Over 700 people came and as a result new groups, or Chapters, began to form across the country.
Local Chapters have since continued to emerge, finding their own ways to adapt the model to meet their local needs whilst maintaining a set of underpinning values. The key principles of a What Next? Chapter can be found here.
Across the country some successes include: Sheffield receiving unsolicited local authority funding and establishing a Creative Guild; the West Midlands launching the 24 Hour Culture Survey; the collaboration of several Northern Chapters including Hull and Yorkshire; the BBC Get Creative campaign; the Local Authority events with colleagues from local government and national networks; several festival debates and party conference events.
Past UK wide projects include research for the Gulbenkian Inquiry for the Civic Role of Arts Organisations, challenging a risk averse culture via Risks, Rights and Reputations with Index for Censorship and Cause4, and supporting national cultural initiatives including Season for Change and Get Creative.