In March 2020, Nesta’s Arts & Culture Finance team launched the £23 million Arts & Culture Impact Fund - a social impact investment fund for creative social enterprises - made possible by the generous support of public, philanthropic and private funders: Arts Council England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Nesta, Big Society Capital and Bank of America.
Freelands Foundation, which aims to broaden access to the visual arts, is the latest to join the group of founding investors, contributing £3 million. This new fund builds on the success of the Arts Impact Fund that, between 2015 and 2019, deployed over £7 million in loans to 27 organisations, including the likes of Studio Wayne McGregor, the National Holocaust Centre & Museum, Soho Theatre Company and Walk the Plank.
Little did we know that the fund’s launch event, hosted at the brand new Paris Gardens site of the Central School of Ballet, would be the last time we’d see many of our friends and supporters in-person; I remember odd elbow greetings and a sense of incredulity that this ‘coronavirus’ was going to send us home permanently. And what a year it’s been. Our initial priority was to support our existing Arts Impact Fund portfolio with as much repayment relief as possible. We were able to offer a suspension of all capital and interest payments from 1 April to 31 December 2020, and throughout the course of 2021 we will be offering more flexibility around how and when those loans will be repaid thanks to the generosity of our funding partners – what this means in practice is that our borrowers can wait until audiences return before they have to begin making capital repayments to the Arts Impact Fund.
However, over the last 12 months we’ve also seen continued interest in repayable finance. The nature of these enquiries has reflected the constraints placed on arts and culture in the pandemic; understandably, fewer organisations have sought investment to grow their activities and experiment with new revenue models. On the other hand, the nature of capital projects – multi-stage, long-term and often delivered whilst venues are closed to the public – has meant that many could continue through the pandemic, maintaining the demand for finance.
Today, Arts & Culture Finance are delighted to announce the first five organisations who are joining the Arts & Culture Impact Fund portfolio. Based in Birkenhead, Sheffield, Glasgow and London, the five organisations work across disciplines and geographies but all have ambitious social missions at their core.
The investment, totalling £1.2 million, will play an important role in supporting the development of earned income streams and enriching the local communities where these borrowers are based.
The five successful recipients are:
Kurious Arts will use the loan for the fit out of a new post-production facility at Castle House, Sheffield. The creative hub aims to attract local film production companies and support emerging content makers from diverse and marginalised communities. Kurious Arts will provide employment, skills development and content creation opportunities to marginalised groups of young creatives who would otherwise struggle to gain employment or skills without leaving the region, or indeed the industry.
Future Yard CIC will use the loan to bring Birkenhead and the Wirral its first dedicated live music venue for a decade and create new opportunities for the local community. The building purchased with the help of the loan will be used to showcase new music talent and serve as a skills hub, providing artist development support and free skills training programmes for young people in the area. Future Yard will work with local partners such as mental health charity Open Door Centre to reach vulnerable young people with limited access to opportunities.
East London Dance and UD, both based in London, will use their loans to create the Talent House, a vibrant new creative hub on Sugar House Island and a first for Stratford. The Talent House will support emerging talent, working primarily with young people aged 10-16 years in the surrounding Newham borough to develop their skills and career prospects in the dance and music industries.
Friends of the Pipe Factory CIC will use the loan to purchase and renovate the iconic 19th century Pipe Factory in Glasgow’s East End into a creative hub for microbusinesses and social enterprises and to support young people interested in working in architecture and design. The investment will ultimately see the factory, originally built in 1877, re-open its doors to the community after over 60 years. During the first 12 months of the Arts & Culture Impact Fund’s investment and as the initial restoration works take place, the team will develop a programme of activities to support local young people.
Through today’s announcement, we hope that arts and culture leaders across the country can be inspired to consider how impact investment might transform their organisations and communities. Looking ahead, as more galleries, museums, theatres and music venues reopen, we expect to see a greater need for more day-to-day cashflow as well as investment to enable organisations to take advantage of fresh opportunities in a society bereft of live culture. So, we’re excited to see what the next cohort of investments from the Arts & Culture Impact Fund will bring!
The Arts & Culture Impact Fund is open for applications until summer 2023. To find out more about how to apply, please visit www.artsculturefinance.org.
Main image: UD Presents Urban Flames, Amaria. Photo by Alexis Maryon.