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‘Libraries and Rural Touring Arts’ - maximising the potential of our nation’s libraries

National Rural Touring Forum (NRTF) to support touring into Libraries in a new national project funded by Arts Council England

New figures reveal almost 800 libraries have closed since 2010. National spending has dropped, as has visitor footfall and the number of paid librarians. Libraries also face numerous external challenges, such as the growth of e-books and people increasingly purchasing low-priced books online. Despite this the 3,618 public libraries in the UK are still visited 233.1 million times annually and 77% of people believe that libraries are either essential or very important to their community (The Reading Agency 2018). Research by Arts Council England found that library attendance is positively associated with well-being and has even related to NHS savings of up to £27.5 annually. One way to address user numbers is increase the opportunity to participate in touring and overcoming embedded sector obstacles of lack of budget, capacity, skills, knowledge and networks.

The National Rural Touring Forum is embarking on an exciting new project funded by Arts Council England. They plan to explore what happens with Libraries and Rural Touring Arts and understanding the challenges library services face in generating new audiences. Can programming quality live art a good way to diversify users and engage the wider community? NRTF will investigate the unique complexities and amazing opportunities in touring live arts into libraries.  The project is also proudly linking across the border working with Welsh Arts Council’s Night out scheme to develop performances in rural and community libraries in Wales.

James Urquhart, Senior Manager, Arts Council England said:

“We are really pleased to be supporting the NRTF to deliver this important initiative which is open to libraries across the country. The programme will enable libraries to explore the programming potential of their spaces by offering a range of resources, networking and go and see opportunities. NRTF plays a key part in supporting the rural touring sector and, by sharing their expertise more widely, communities will be able to connect with arts and culture in their local library.”  

Public libraries have an appetite to increase toured-in product but often need extra support, skills, capacity, networks and confidence to achieve this. NRTF will audit the library programming sector by working with Rural Touring Schemes, library services, library networks and venues, learning and expanding on initiatives and activity that is already in place.

Holly Lombardo, NRTF Director:

“This is an important strategic project for NRTF. We look forward to identifying and responding to the needs of librarians who have the potential to programme work. It is also a great opportunity for artists and performing companies who will potentially have a new set of venues and touring spaces to show their work”

NRTF will create resources and developmental activities, including bursaries and an artistic investment pot to encourage librarians into programming performance in library spaces. NRTF and ACE want to instil confidence, though training, and identify what is needed to utilise and build on librarians’ strengths and priorities to make the most out of cultural events. This is a fantastic opportunity for libraries and artists.

There is a now a live call out for libraries to share their knowledge of putting on live shows.


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