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Animated Edition - Spring 2006
Supporting artists supporting communities
Mari Martin, Head of Arts at Norfolk County Council outlines the context in which Norfolk Dance is developing the skills of dance artists so that they can better serve the dance needs of people in the county
Think of Norfolk and I guess most people would think of the Broads, the coast, Sandringham, big skies, fish and chips in Cromer and the fact that the county has more stately homes than you can shake a stick at. All true, and great for it. Delia Smith invests generously in the mighty Canaries, the famous and wealthy live here because, quite simply, it is an incredibly beautiful part of the world, and you can have quiet if that's what you want.

In stark contrast, Norfolk has some considerable and very real challenges to address. The county is large, with a poor transport infrastructure, it is a two hour drive from Kings Lynn in the west to Great Yarmouth in the east. We have some of the most deprived wards in the country. Parts of Norwich, Great Yarmouth and Thetford are in the top ten per cent of most deprived areas of England. Educational attainment in the county is low compared to the rest of the country and parts of Norfolk have a significant proportion of people with low basic skills. Our population is sparse and concentrated in a few main urban centres and market towns across the county. Rural deprivation is a very real issue to us here.

In the middle of all of this the arts are thriving. Participation and engagement levels are high. We have a strong arts infrastructure made up of professional and voluntary arts organisations, and practising artists working in all art forms. Not all of this activity is focussed on our urban centres by any means. Our arts organisations and artists play a very important role in rural areas, bringing communities together, as only the arts can, in a unique and powerful way.

Norfolk County Council believes that the arts play a vital role in all aspects of the life of the county. We want to ensure that people living here and visitors can enjoy high quality arts activities and that our arts organisations, artists and creative industries are valued and supported, and new talent nurtured. We believe that the arts play a vital role in social and economic regeneration, in enhancing health and as a powerful tool in learning. Our elected members were actively engaged in the development of the recently revised County Council Arts Policy which was then agreed through a formal political process by our Cabinet. This political approval is vital if the arts are to be taken seriously and supported.

We invest in organisations which deliver on our priorities. One such organisation is Norfolk Dance, which under the skilful leadership of Jan Legge, plays a vital role in bringing dance to new audiences, developing new talent and strengthening the skills base in the county. Norfolk Dance is the dance development agency for Norfolk and promotes a wide range of inclusive dance opportunities for people of all ages and abilities across the county. The company has a team of in-house dance artists who deliver education and outreach work and also produce their own work as dancers and choreographers. The company has recently received Arts Council funding for research which will explore the potential of a professional development programme for dance practitioners across the Eastern Region and beyond.

In a large county where our communities are disparate, having first class dance opportunities in localities is crucial. The interest in and demand for dance is here but we simply don't have enough skilled dance practitioners who can deliver the work to the highest standards. Through a CPD programme Norfolk Dance could help to create a skilled dance 'workforce' and considerably strengthen the arts infrastructure in Norfolk.

First and foremost Norfolk Dance exists to provide 'imaginative and challenging opportunities for people to become involved in dance' and the company does it very well. As a local authority which believes that the arts are very important in the life of the county this matters greatly to us. However, we are also charged to address broader issues which relate to all aspects of people's lives, our health, education, economic and social well being, our aspirations and futures. These are expressed in Norfolk Ambition, the community strategy for Norfolk. Norfolk Dance, along with other key arts organisations in the county, helps us to address many of these challenges.

New opportunities will come along with the emerging Local Area Agreements (LAA). These are agreements between central government and local areas, in our case the whole of Norfolk, and involve agreeing on a series of high level outcomes. The key blocks of the agreement are Children and Young People, Healthier Communities and Older People, Safer and Stronger Communities, and Economic Development and Enterprise. Norfolk Dance and the broader cultural sector should be able to hook into the delivery of outcomes contained in the LAA as they develop.

We also know that the Olympics are on the way and already local and regional partnerships across the country are looking at ways in which they can contribute to and benefit from the Olympics. In Norfolk we have started these discussions with a range of partners, public and private, and there is an enthusiasm and will to make sure we are part of it and, importantly create a lasting legacy. Norfolk Dance has much to offer as these plans shape up.

So much happening already, and many more good things to come. From our end the relationship with Norfolk Dance works very well. We value our close working relationship with the company, as Jan puts it 'We don't interfere too much!' We are clear about how our investment is used, the quality of the work produced and the very real benefits we gain.

Mari Martin can be contacted on mari.martin@norfolk.gov.uk and Jan Legge at Norfolk Dance on jan@norfolkdance.co.uk or visit www.norfolkdance.co.uk

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Animated: Spring 2006