Fighting culture’s corner in an age of austerity

I was invited to hear the Rt Hon Maria Miller MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, give a speech on “Testing Times – Fighting culture’s corner in an age of austerity”.  Held at the British Museum – what a fantastic inspiring venue, established in 1759 and the UK’s number 1 visitor attraction.

Introduced by the BM’s Director Neil McGregor, who made a number of quips about the Treasury and its mandarins. He made the case for how efficient the UK Museum sector is, outlining that in comparison to the GB the USA and Washington subsidy per visit to its major Museums is 2/3 more; twice as much in Paris, and they charge admission, and seven times more in Berlin.

Maria Miller started her speech by emphasising that culture underpins what it is to be British. Britain leads the world. Culture touches and underpins the structure of Britain. Culture, she argued, leads the regeneration of the UK. The Arts are not an add on. The government needs to continue to invest, Arts Council England funding needs to be seed corn and it has increased by 100m through the current government. There has been £700m given by philanthropists and the government actively supports and encourages giving. However she recognises that it isn’t the ‘silver bullet’ or the only solution – we also need to encourage creativity and commercial nous.

Culture and the Arts should not be ring-fenced or protected in the Comprehensive Spending Review; Ms Miller asserts, we don’t want to leave debt to our children and future generations.

Culture is however central to growth; and Ms Miller rallied the gathered throng with sound bites such as :

  • £3 billion will go into the Arts sector over the lifetime of this Parliament.
  • 40% of tourists cite culture and heritage as the main reason for visiting the UK
  • Enlightened local authorities don’t cut, but continue to invest – Ms Miller urged all LA’s to adopt this approach.
  • Creative industries are worth £36bn to the economy and are fed by a healthy cultural sector
  • Culture brings opportunities, jobs, regeneration and growth
  • Cultural diplomacy, it is a common language worldwide.
  • Britain leads the world, British museums and institutions are revered abroad. GREAT campaign that highlights the best of Britain from an investment and tourism perspective.
  • We specialise in creativity and innovation – the productions War Horse and Matilda were publically subsidised, but now massive creative and commercial successes.

Ms Miller’s summary call to arts and cultural sector leaders – continue being resilient, look for commercial and creative opportunities, position yourselves within the visitor economy.  Ms Miller will support the sector and fight the cause with the Treasury; positioning the arts not as on the periphery, but at the centre of economic growth

Moving onto Q & A, which was hosted by Ed Vaizey the Minister for Arts.

Jude Kelly made the case for community based Arts and not only the major institutions. She was worried that grass roots Arts will seriously suffer through the effects of the Local Authority cuts.

English Heritage asked should free access to Museums be down to the institutions to decide. The Culture Sec supports EH charging and also charging for certain exhibitions in major London Museums stating that we could learn from them. However, she holds dear the principle of free access.

You can read the full transcript of this keynote speech here.

Iain Varah, cCLOA Vice-Chair & Chief Executive, Vision Redbridge Culture and Leisure