Arts Council England
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New partnership brings outdoor art and culture to England’s waterways

Arts Council England and the Canal & River Trust have embarked on a revitalised partnership to bring engaging artworks to England’s waterways, with a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by our Chief Executive, Darren Henley OBE, and the Canal & River Trust’s Chief Executive, Richard Parry. 

The five-year agreement, signed at Coventry Transport Museum, is based on a shared belief that arts, culture, and our country’s vibrant canals and rivers have an inspirational and transformational effect on communities and can boost people’s wellbeing. All of which remain vitally important in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The new partnership builds on the success of two previous MoUs between the two organisations, first starting in 2012, which resulted in the initiation of the successful Arts on the Waterways programme.

A photograph of a canal boat, gliding down a canal. On the back of the boat, a person is stood, using the tiller to steer the boat.

Image courtesy of Canal & River Trust. The RV Furor Scribendi, Small Bells Ring.

The primary objective of the new MOU is to bring a new wave of arts and culture events along our waterways. Activities planned so far include a cultural programme for the Coventry Canal as part of Coventry UK City of Culturestreet art alongside canals in Sefton, Tottenham and Walsall; a floating short story boat project called Small Bells RingHinterlands, a series of participatory arts activities in Sheffield and Enfield; and new audio works by women artists.

The signatories have agreed that key principles will underpin the programme. These are: 

  • Artistic Quality and Ambition: to work with high quality creative practitioners across art forms and support upcoming practitioners with potential to excel, enabling the development of quality processes, arts and culture; 
  • Capitalise on being local: to build closer, more relevant connections with communities, particularly those places that are underserved or overlooked;
  • Collaborative and dynamic: to nurture more co-creation and work with inventive practitioners, collectives and communities;
  • Environmental sustainability: to follow the defined environmental responsibilities of the two parties and to leave as small a carbon footprint as possible whilst highlighting the importance of environmental responsibility to people and communities.

Importantly, the MoU also outlines that the programme delivered by the Canal & River Trust will:

  • Open up new opportunities for artists, freelancers, children, young people and families to co-create new arts on the waterways projects and activities;
  • Attract and connect a more diverse range of supporters, visitors, audiences, families, volunteers, artists and workers to the Trust’s waterways and museums;
  • Deliver beauty on the doorstep, creating spaces and places that communities can be part of, enjoy and be proud of to encourage wider use of the waterway network;
  • Create a sense of belonging through participatory arts activities where communities will be an integral part of the process, increasing collective care of their local canal;
  • Enhance five ways to wellbeing where arts and communities can flourish by water and connect with nature;
  • Create new local, regional and national partnerships bringing together arts, environmental and wellbeing organisations.

A photograph of a person standing on the side of a canal. They look towards the camera and smile.

Image courtesy of Canal & River Trust. King's Cross Phone by Canal & River Trust Photographer in Residence, Jonathan Goldberg, 2019.

Darren Henley OBE, Chief Executive Officer, Arts Council England said:

“Creativity has played an integral role in supporting our nation’s wellbeing through the challenges the last 16 months have presented.  Cultural experiences have kept many of us feeling inspired, connected, and hopeful – just as England’s waterways have provided many with an outdoor space to unwind, reflect and stay active.  All of which remain so important.

"The continuation of the Arts Council’s long-term relationship with the Canal & River Trust will ensure that more high quality and ambitious cultural offers punctuate our country’s great waterways at a time when they are needed most.  Together, we will ensure that people from all backgrounds can experience the sheer joy and benefits of exploring creativity along the rivers and canals that flow through our country’s vibrant communities."

Richard Parry, Chief Executive of the Canal & River Trust, said:

“The canals have provided invaluable breathing space for communities during the pandemic. The special partnership we have with Arts Council England will build on this recognition that they are unique places, with a new wave of arts projects that will improve wellbeing for local people, support artists, attract new visitors, and make life better by water. 

“This partnership recognises the vital role that creative practitioners and cultural organisations, with the canvas of the canals to work on, can play in the nation’s recovery. We are excited by the opportunity this programme offers to create a wide range of creative productions that celebrate the waterways and the communities they run through over the coming years.”

More information on arts on the waterways can be found on the Trust’s website.

Download the Memorandum of Understanding 


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