The beginnings of Creative Arts East originate in the piloting of a rural touring scheme in 1991/92. A one-year, part-time freelance contract was advertised and Nicky Stainton was contracted to run the pilot. The Rural Arts Touring Scheme (RATS) presented its first programme in early 1992 with 12 shows in six communities The scheme took off, and the number of voluntary promoting groups began to grow. By 1993 it was agreed the scheme should be established as an independent organisation, and Arts in Rural Norfolk (AIRN) was set up as a limited company and registered charity in 1994.
A rural exhibition scheme was developed in the mid 1990s, which took high quality contemporary art and craft exhibitions to community venues across rural Norfolk each summer. At a time when there were virtually no contemporary galleries, and before the Open Studio scheme existed, this was a unique chance for people living outside Norwich to see new work. This scheme ran until 2006.
Over the next few years AIRN was approached by local authority officers from Cambridgeshire to set up a rural touring scheme for the county and to extend the scheme to the Forest Heath District of Suffolk. This development led to another change of name and the organisation was re-launched as Rural Arts East in 1997. After three years Arts in Cambridgeshire on Tour (ACT) was so well established that the organisation became an independent body.
In 2001 RAE joined a new consortium of youth organisations in response to an approach from Youth Music to establish a Youth Music Action Zone in Norfolk. The Music Life Project ran from 2001 - 2005 and enabled RAE to appoint a full-time youth arts worker and re-establish its work with young people. In 2005 it was re-named Music Wise and the project ran until 2008.
During 2000 East England Arts, forerunner to Arts Council England East, promoted the idea that a number of Norfolk arts development organisations merge to form a more strategic, better resourced and more sustainable development agency. After a period of research and consultation RAE merged with Create, a disability arts and culture development project, Wordwaves, a literature development initiative, and Norfolk Arts Marketing. The new organisation re-branded as Creative Arts East, restructured, moved to new premises in Wymondham and was launched in June 2002.
In March 2008 Creative Arts East lost its Arts Council England status as a Regularly Funded Organisation. However, with continuing support from the Local Authorities and the generation of additional income from fund-raising and trading sources Creative Arts East, is still thriving.
Throughout the history of the organisation the key themes have been a willingness to respond to new opportunities and to embrace change and development. The focus has been, and still remains, on engaging with those people who cannot easily access arts opportunities either because of their rural location or because of other barriers to involvement. There has been a strong commitment to service users - voluntary promoting groups, arts practitioners and organisations, disabled people - and to ensuring that activities are responsive to need. Collaboration and partnership with other organisations and agencies has also been a constant theme.