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I was recently at the b-side Symposium in Dorset. It was two days of provocations, conversations and presentations asking how can tourism work for art and art work for tourism?


Developing places as ‘cultural destinations’ has become an increasing focus for local authorities and Arts Council England alike – it’s proven to make a region (and the cultural organisations involved) more resilient, by attracting tourists driven by their cultural appetites, particularly outside of the traditional tourism peak season.

The symposium saw representatives from tourism, culture, and local authorities from across the country all asking the same questions.

How can we condense culture down to purely quantitative statistics when its benefits are much more multi-faceted? How can tourism start to talk about the significant effects positive visitor experience has on local communities and place-making?

And perhaps most importantly, what can the two sectors learn from each other?

The funding landscape for both the cultural and tourism sectors has been shifting for years, and it’s likely to be further scrutinised in the coming months. Organisations are having to become more resilient, and are constantly being asked to ‘diversify their income streams’ – the interesting thing is that both sectors have done this in entirely different ways.

Culture has bolstered itself by becoming increasingly reliant on reciprocal agreements (with other cultural organisations, and the wider community), whilst the tourism sector has increased its focus on the value of the visitor economy, economic impact and GVA. Both routes are extremely valuable, but surely not mutually exclusive?

Sometimes with symposia it’s easy to leave feeling re-energised, but ultimately, unchanged, but I left the b-side Symposium committed to exploring models that allow the incredibly hard-working individuals across both sectors to meaningfully work together, learn from one another, and articulate why public sector support is as important now as ever.

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