Carnival. Photo: Dan Coates
The question What Next? was originally asked publicly by David Lan, 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 was for culture once the immediate cuts necessitated by the recession and banking crash were made. 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.
Chapters have since continued to emerge, finding their own ways to adapt the model to meet their own needs whilst maintaining a set of underpinning values. The key principles of a What Next? Chapter can be found here.
The National movement has collaborated to make formal submissions to Treasury for the last two Spending Reviews and representatives from across the county met with politicians in the lead up to the 2015 election, influencing the content of the party manifestos. The Young Vic chapter has become a safe and unintimidating forum for politicians to discuss issues with people from the cultural sector, and the knowledge that there is a National movement beyond that one group is a big part of the attraction.
Across the country some recent 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.