What Next? Come along and decide!

On Monday 29 April hundreds of artists and artistic directors, producers and promoters, curators and composers will gather at the What Next? national conference at the Palace Theatre in London. Our purpose? (For I’ll be there, and I hope you will be too.) To explore how the cultural sector can harness ‘people power’. How, collectively, we can engage the millions of people who take part in the arts, to help make the case for why the arts matter.

This is important stuff. In a week where the Chancellor announced that £11.5bn in further cuts will be finalised in June, and with a Culture Minister refuting all claims of a funding crisis in the arts we’ve got our work cut out, and we need to act now.

It couldn’t be clearer how imperative it is that we engage our audiences and participants, our volunteers and trustees in communicating to central and local government how important the arts are to them. That, as the Local Government Association reported earlier this month, what we do not only makes money, but also makes life worth living. And that that the £398m the government spent on the arts in 2011/12 (just 0.06% of total spending) is worth every penny.

When a hospital is under threat, it’s patient power – constituent power – that’s most likely to sway the politicians’ thinking, not the latest report from hospital mandarins or a meeting with hospital staff. What inspires me about What Next? is that, like the My Theatre Matters campaign launched last week it’s about harnessing ‘punter’ power.

The ask on 29 April is simple. Come along, join in. Be ready to think laterally and pragmatically about how we can together mobilise our audiences, participants, our front of house volunteers, our board members, to tell the story of why the arts matter to them. That’s it. As a sector that’s all about imagination, all about communication, I’d like to think that we can do this.

And what a voice we’d have if we cracked it…

DCMS’ 2011/12 Taking Part survey estimates that in that year over 41 million adults engaged with the arts, and 33 million attended three or more arts events.*

That compares to 16 million attendances (not attenders) racked up by the Football League and just over 12 million attendances in the Premier league reported by ESPN. So you see, there are a lot of us about. People who love the arts and put their hand in their pocket for them because they see their value. People whose lives are made better, in all sorts of ways, by the arts. People whose passion for the arts we already rely on, but who I think would love to get involved, tell their stories, make the case – if only we asked them.

What Next? is a sector-wide alliance of arts and cultural organisations – that’s one of its key strengths. Working mainly in music, I want as many musicians, promoters, composers, producers, venues, education organisations – anyone involved in music, in fact – as possible to be part of the conversations that happen on 29 April. According to DCMS, ‘other music’ – that’s everything bar jazz and classical music was the most popular artform listed, racking up 16 million adult attenders in 2011/12. Think of the numbers of people we in the music sector could mobilise if we joined in with What Next?

So come on. Hit the What Next? Eventbrite page now. It’s Monday 29 April, from 11am – 4pm. It’ll cost you £25. In return, you get a day of being the most creative, lateral thinking, dynamic, networked, making a difference to us all version of you that you can be. What could be better? Or more important?

(The conference is just the start, and What Next? meetings are happening around the country, so if you can’t make it to the conference but want to be involved, email: elizabethjane100@gmail.com).

* If you’re interested in this kind of data do check out the National Campaign for the Arts’ UK Arts Index.