Latest News

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

Press Release

January 2020

‘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 to 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.

“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” Holly Lombardo, NRTF Director

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.

For more information contact

Holly Lombardo, Director, National Rural Touring Forum

Notes to Editor:

There are 3,618 public libraries in the UK, and they receive 233.1 million visits annually. 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 been connected with NHS savings of up to £27.5 annually. Despite this, library visits decreased by over 10 million in the last year (CIPFA 2018), and many libraries struggle to afford to employ staff, instead relying on over 50,000 volunteers nationally to run them.

Guardian Article on funding for libraries – December 2019

Rural Services Network article on Libraries – December 2019

“We are working with local and central government to promote this sort of approach, to encourage them to think ‘libraries first’ in delivering services to communities, and ensure that there is recognition of the valuable contributions that library services make to their strategies and priorities.” Michael Ellis MP – Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, October 2018

Arts Council England is the national development body for arts and culture across England, working to enrich people’s lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to visual art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspire us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2018 and 2022, we will invest £1.45 billion of public money from government and an estimated £860 million from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.

National Rural Touring Forum is an organisation that networks, develops and supports the delivery of high-quality creative experiences across rural areas in the UK. The aim of the Forum is to strengthen and support rural communities to bring professional work to their venues.

NRTF members are made up of a national network of Rural Touring Schemes who programme menus of professional artistic events that tour in their region. We also have artist, venue, promoter, producer and festival members all promoting and developing professional work for rural settings.

NRTF provides its members with opportunities for training, making connections, showcases, research, discussion and advocacy. It also develops strategic projects that enable national & international partnerships and commissions. We sit on Arts Council Rural Stakeholders panels to lobby for support in the rural sectors and highlight the importance of meeting the needs of rural audiences and communities. We also lobby at government level and throughout the creative and cultural sectors. Through research and advocacy, the NRTF aims to promote a better understanding of the value of rural arts and touring.

Many Rural Touring Schemes are funded organisations, and some by Arts Council England. This means they can subsidise programmes to bring bigger or more innovative work to their venues. The schemes will spend a lot of their time seeking creative work they believe are suitable and enjoyable for their audiences. They will also challenge audiences to try something new.

One way they do this is through projects such as the Rural Touring Dance Initiative. In 2015 the NRTF joined forces with The Place, Take Art and China Plate to launch a development initiative for making and touring dance performances to and for rural areas.

Across the UK there are currently 30-member schemes, 1,650 promoting groups, 110,000 voluntary hours, 332,000 audience, over £1,000,000 box office sales.