Interview with Creative United

by James Ketchell | Posted on 29 November 2016

James Ketchell of Boncerto met up with Mary-Alice Stack, Chief Executive of arts finance organisation Creative United to discuss access to the arts and music.

For those who don’t know… who are Creative United and what do you do?

Creative United provides a range of financial products and services designed to enable the growth and development of the UK’s cultural and creative industries. Our mission is to build a sustainable and resilient creative economy, making the arts accessible to all. 

In practice this means we lead the development of two major “public facing” programmes: Own Art and Take it away. These two consumer credit schemes enable access to the arts and music by working with galleries (Own Art) and musical instrument retailers (Take it away) to offer interest-free loans to the public, allowing them to spread the substantial up-front costs over time. 

In addition to this, our Creative Industry Finance programme offers business development support and access to finance for creative industry enterprises. We also run the ArtsCard, the country’s first employee benefit scheme to focus exclusively on arts, culture and creativity.


So, quite a lot to be getting on with! Can you share some thoughts on how finance can help open up access to the arts?

Our two consumer or public facing schemes, Own Art and Take it away allow customers to spread the costs of their not insubstantial investment into more manageable chunks.  For Own Art it allows the public to get involved with collecting modern art and crafts from over 250 galleries across the country and to spread the costs over 10 or 20 months (for higher priced purchases) interest free. In our last financial year more than £3.9 million was distributed across more than 4,600 loans. 

Similarly, Take it Away allows children and young people to spread the cost of purchasing an instrument over nine or 18 months interest free from more than 300 independent music instrument retailers in England and Northern Ireland. Since the programme’s debut in 2007, more than 80,000 have benefitted from it. 

Both programmes ensure that the financial barriers are reduced and, at the same time, we’re helping to ensure a thriving eco-system for independent music instrument shops and a strengthened art market with growing demand for the services of galleries and the output of artists.


Let’s discuss at these benefits in more detail for Take it away…

We believe that the programme benefits the arts sector in a number of ways.

Firstly, it ensures access to musical instruments and helps parents and carers to overcome the financial barriers to owning an instrument. This is important because owning an instrument gives students a sense of commitment to playing and studying music, and, in my view, makes it more likely that they’ll fall in love with it. A new, fit-for-purpose, instrument can mean a better and purer sound and can also help students commit to music in the long-term. 

Secondly, it supports an independent music retail sector. Facing growing competition from chain instrument retailers who deliver scale either online or on the outskirts of cities across the country, it allows independent retailers to provide competitive affordable finance. Furthermore it reduces their costs in the face of growing rents and business rates.

Finally, it fuels a musical eco-system. An independent instrument retailer is at the centre of a system which enables customers to visit a shop to: buy accessories, hire a teacher, find opportunities to perform, fix their instrument, buy sheet music, find out about local concerts and festivals, hire a rehearsal space, book a studio session, and much more. 

It’s not just about offering an easy way to purchase an instrument, it’s also about supporting a great example of independent retail.

It sounds like a great programme…. Are there any opportunities for scale and development?

We’re delighted with the programme and the impact it’s having. However, we’re currently looking for funding partners to come on board as we’d love to be able to expand the programme’s reach even further. 

Take it away started out as an unrestricted programme and owing to funding constraints by Arts Council England, we had to focus our attentions on the age groups we felt would benefit most from the scheme: children and young people.  However, with an additional partner on board we’d perhaps be able to return to making it available for all. The love of music is universal, so ideally we’d like our programme to be too.

Additionally, we’re currently only working with retailers in England and Northern Ireland, so with more funding we could target Scotland and Wales. We’d ideally love for the scheme to be available in every major town and city across the UK.

Finally, there are smaller, more targeted projects we could undertake aimed at diaspora communities or supporting specialist instruments and bespoke instrument makers. We could also work on targeted projects which hit areas of low uptake for the scheme…. There are so many more opportunities to benefit more people, that we’re really excited by the next few years of development. 

Mary-Alice... Many thanks for your time.

Find out more about Creative United, and their programmes