Hearts for the Arts 2021 Shortlist – Councillor Dale Heenan

Swindon Borough's Councillor Dale Heenan has been shortlisted for Best Arts Champion - Councillor in the 2021 Hearts for the Arts Awards

Councillor Dale Heenan has been the Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Culture and Heritage in Swindon for two years. He has placed arts and culture at the centre of the Town Centre Regeneration, and has inspired a momentum and optimism for what can be achieved in the next ten years. From the little things which help the arts through to multi-million regeneration projects, Dale has led from the front.

Cllr Heenan’s willingness to challenge preconceptions about the arts has brought many rigorous new ideas to his portfolio and his success in articulating to councillors and senior council officers the benefit of the arts can be seen in the now protected arts grant funding in Swindon.  He places great emphasis on what it means to the people who get involved and perform in the arts – providing them with confidence and new skills – and on what the potential cost of cutting the arts grants would be on adult social care, children services, and library services. By having these services proactively working with organisations and community groups as arts commissioners, the council departments can see first-hand the burden that can be removed from these services through the arts.

Cllr Heenan has forged crucial partnerships and secured political support and vital funding for the regeneration of Swindon’s town centre including a new £80 million ten-year vision to relocate the Theatre, Museum and Art Gallery, Media Production Centre and Dance Centre. This scheme could add more than £35 million annually to Swindon’s economy and could create as many as 1,200 jobs for the town. This is a particularly significant achievement against a backdrop of severe change happening in high streets and town centres across the country, both pre- and post-pandemic.

But for Cllr Heenan arts and culture is not just about the buildings. His concept ‘Art on Tour’ successfully brought art out of Swindon’s Museum and Art Gallery and straight into people’s homes as well as to local outdoor areas. Part of this concept saw the launch of a digital project – ‘Home is where the art is’ – enabling people to access the Gallery’s modern art collection from their living rooms. Trees were used to hang further examples of the Gallery’s renowned collection in an effort to share art with more people in more places, as local parks have played an increasingly critical part in people’s health and wellbeing during the pandemic.

What the judges said:

“Cllr Heenan’s work on behalf of artists and audiences in Swindon is so inspiring. From funding ingenious ways to keep libraries open, to getting art on tour, his inventiveness and lateral thinking is so evident. His ability to create partnerships, and secure investment, for major capital projects means his vision is likely to unlock real lasting change for the town.”

“There doesn’t seem to be a layer of the council and the community that Cllr Heenan hasn’t been involved with in advocating for the power of the arts. It’s wonderful to see the impact of his new ways of thinking on the regeneration efforts in Swindon.”