Visual Arts: The beating heart and soul of building back better

UK Visual Arts industry calls for government to build back better for creatives

14th December 2020 – A report launched today by UK think-tank Policy Connect, Contemporary Visual Arts Network, and the APPG for Design & Innovation, calls for Government to exploit the potential of the Visual Arts sector to grow the economy following the Covid-19 pandemic, through explicit growth targets and rolling over existing tax incentives.

The first lockdown and social distancing measures introduced in response to Covid-19 have had a detrimental impact on the creative industries, with a projected £74bn turnover loss over the course of 2020. COVID is also expected to be responsible for 406,000 job losses for the sector – of which over two thirds to be self-employed.

In July, the Government announced a support package of £1.75bn for the creative industries which, while hugely beneficial in the short-term, is not sufficient on its own, and more direct support must be shown to the Visual Arts in order for the sector to survive. This report lays out five key recommendations to support the industry as we begin to move back into a tiered system following a second lockdown.

The first recommendation is to formally define the value of the Visual Arts sector, and to measure this value using Department of Culture, Media and Sports trade figures. This will involve establishing a group of visual arts specific Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) codes.

The report also recommends the Creative Industries Council take this baseline and use it to set an annual growth strategy and targets for the visual arts, and request the same to be done at a local level – this will help ensure the potential of the sector is understood and incentivised.

The third recommendation calls on the Government to extend and simplify the current tax incentives for small galleries and new artists to ensure that the social and economic benefits of culture are shared across the United Kingdom, and English regions, to support the Government’s levelling up agenda.

The report then recommends that visual artists should be designed into the detail of the government’s proposed ‘Global Talent’ immigration route, with a wide range of applicants able to be endorsed as ‘future leaders’ by the Arts Council, using the new Standard Occupational Classification codes developed out of our first recommendation.

Finally, the report recommends that in order to provide capacity for the existing network of galleries, local authorities, schools and universities to operate more effectively together and provide sector leadership, collaboration funding should be provided through the government to support delivery of the growth targets laid out in the second recommendation.

In implementing these recommendation, Government has an opportunity to build the visual arts sector back better, by taking into account the specific industry focussed challenges of the pandemic and ensuring that most appropriate support is given.

Jack Tindale, policy manager for design & innovation at Policy Connect and report author says:

“It has been an honour to work with CVAN and the visual arts sector on this report. After one of the most disruptive years in modern history, access to culture is more important than ever for our social and economic well-being. The recommendations we have set out in the report are ambitious, but necessary, and provide a clear roadmap for how artists can contribute to the economic recovery over the coming years”

Director of CVAN Paula Orrell says:

“Today marks a really important and significant step forward in formalising our relationship with government, something that has been a long time in the making.  We are pleased to be in a position to be able to make these recommendations on behalf of our sector. We believe that the visual arts will play a pivotal role in this next, crucial, rebuilding phase.”

This report was commissioned by the Contemporary Visual Arts Network (CVAN) with partner support from a-n, The Artists Information Company.


The All-Party Parliamentary Design and Innovation Group is a cross-party coalition of Parliamentarians and design sector organisations that works to develop new design policy ideas, critique existing government decision-making around design, communicate within Parliament the enormous potential value of design, and help the design community better engage with the policy process.

About Policy Connect

Policy Connect is a membership-based, not-for-profit, cross-party think tank. It brings together parliamentarians and government in collaboration with academia, business and civil society to inform, influence and improve UK public policy through debate, research and innovative thinking, so as to improve peoples’ lives. It leads and manages an extensive network of parliamentary groups, research commissions, forums and campaigns. Its work focuses on key policy areas including: health; education & skills; industry, technology & innovation; and sustainability.

About CVAN

CVAN is a sector support and advocacy organisation that represents a diverse visual arts community of artists, creative practitioners, and arts organisation, institutions and art galleries across nine regions in England. The network is representative of the whole of England's visual arts sector, bringing together individuals ranging from artists, independent creative professionals including technical professionals, academics, students, National Portfolio Organisations and organisations (including studio providers) with investment models outside of NPO and ACE funding. CVAN's representation of the whole visual arts ecology means that it can consider and articulate the individual segments of the sector in relation to its whole.

Notes to editors:

The report, Visual Arts: The beating heart and soul of Building Back Better, can be found here:

For further questions or interview requests please contact victoria.zeybrandt [at] (Victoria[dot]Zeybrandt[at]policyconnect[dot]org[dot]uk)

This is not an official publication of the House of Commons or the House of Lords. It has not been approved by either Houses or its committees. All-Party Parliamentary Groups are informal groups of Members of both Houses with a common interest in particular issues. The views expressed in this report are those of the group.