As someone who grew up in Salford, I followed The Lowry’s inaugural season in 2000 with great interest. A stunning international programme, including The Paris Opera Ballet, the National Theatre and a large-scale community project, took to the stage. During my childhood, I had witnessed the Quays go from one of the UK’s most vibrant docks into an industrial wasteland. It was remarkable that Salford City Council, Arts Council England and other partners had the bravery and vision to commission such an ambitious millennium project, investing £116m of public money in a state of the art venue on what, despite limited private investment, remained a largely derelict site.
By the time I returned to my home city as Chief Executive of The Lowry in 2002, the catalysing effect of this multi-million pound investment was starting to gain momentum. The Lowry built a bridge across the water to Trafford, connecting the Quays to accommodate the new Imperial War Museum North. Over the next decade, we would be part of a substantial growth in business and employment opportunities on the Quays, as well as a 30 per cent growth in the number of residents. By 2011, the infrastructure and opportunity now in place on the Quays was recognised in the best way possible with the opening of MediaCityUK. With international brands including the BBC and ITV now making their home in Salford, the Quays took its place as one of the world’s foremost cultural and media destinations. This vibrant landscape houses hundreds of emerging creative SMEs, a growing retail offering and a state of the art campus for the University of Salford. Since opening, The Lowry has been a cornerstone to a further £1.4bn worth of public and private investment in the Quays.
What Salford City Council recognised all those years ago is that investment in the arts has the power to catalyse regeneration. But they didn’t just look at physical regeneration, buildings and infrastructure, it was about social regeneration: changing the ambitions and outlook of communities in the city.
On 27 November 2013, Beyond the Arts: Economic and Wider Impacts of The Lowry and its Programmes was published – an independent report by New Economy into the financial, artistic and social impact of The Lowry. The results surprised even us.
The Lowry receives annual funding from Arts Council England and Salford City Council and, in the current financial environment, not only is this funding all the more crucial, but we have to ensure this investment goes further than ever. Only 11 per cent of The Lowry’s budget comes from public funding, while the report shows an average of 40 per cent across regularly funded arts organisations. The Lowry is also able to have a substantial economic impact both regionally and nationally, showing £29m in GVA contributed to the economy every year whilst supporting 533 full time equivalent jobs. And possibly more importantly, each year The Lowry engages with around 35,000 people, especially young people, from the communities around us.
Like many inner-city areas, Salford has its challenges. But Beyond the Arts shows that investment in culture in the city has provided opportunities that wouldn’t be there otherwise. The Lowry is an example of an imaginative city council using public funding to leverage significant economic and social benefit for the City, the people of Salford and our region.
Julia Fawcett OBE is Chief Executive of The Lowry