Even in these darkest of times, Southampton has been full of culture and creativity.

Organisations like Zoielogic have brought joy with their outdoor dance spectaculars. SeaCity Museum is hosting an internationally significant exhibition commemorating Native American culture.

Plans to bid for UK City of Culture 2025 are gaining real momentum. And today’s announcement confirming Arts Council England’s commitment to MAST Studios is another exciting development for the city’s cultural scene.

Last week, we published a report from the Centre for Economic and Business Research that shows how arts and culture will be central to the nation’s future prosperity.

It reveals that in 2018, arts and culture contributed over £13.5 billion to the UK economy, employed more people than Sainsbury’s, and brought visitors to our high streets.

It’s now a larger economic sector than agricultural, forestry and fishing combined.

This research also shows that the Government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund – the biggest single investment in the arts in the country’s history – will help the cultural sector to bounce back a full year earlier than initially expected, enabling our creative organisations to play a vital role in our national recovery.

Despite the pandemic, cultural organisations in Southampton have continued to bring the city to life in many ways.

During lockdown, dance theatre company Zoielogic toured their hit show RIDE to care home residents.

Last month, they organised an amazing socially-distanced street dance – showing that even in tough times, art still has the power to bring us together.

Although its building is closed, John Hansard Gallery have remained busy, commissioning artist Larry Achiampong to create new works – his colourful pan-African flags bringing new energy to the city centre.

Audiences can view a powerful film by the artist online.

And we’re delighted to confirm an initial £905,000 investment into the Mayflower Theatre’s MAST Studios project in Guildhall Square.

MAST places Southampton’s communities at its heart and will broaden the city’s rich cultural ecology – another building block towards 2025.

The Government’s £1.57 billion investment – a portion of which the Arts Council is delivering - is an unequivocal vote of confidence in the value that cultural organisations create.

Creativity and culture bring communities together, create good jobs, increase footfall to high streets and – as we’ve all discovered in lockdown – help to enrich our lives, which is why cultural investment is so important for our national recovery and why we are proud to support these organisations.

Phil Gibby

Area Director, Arts Council England, South West