The arts must be a right for everyone, not the preserve of a privileged elite

June 21, 2013 2:44 pm

This week, Labour has stood up for the importance of the arts and creative industries – to individuals, communities and the economy all over the country. On Wednesday, I led the first Commons debate on the arts and creative industries in over five years. In Parliament we often debate health, education, the economy. We should recognise that the arts contribute to all of these. And it’s right that we talk about the intrinsic value of the arts – how they move us and challenge us and the great joy that arts and culture bring to our lives.

The arts make money for this country – but they are never just a commodity. From the parents watching a school play, to the nation watching the Olympic opening ceremony, the arts enrich our lives and all of our communities.

We’re a country which produces some of the greatest creativity on the planet – whether it’s music, fashion, film, theatre, broadcasting, design, art, our libraries, our museums – our cultural creativity is admired and envied around the world.

So it was wonderful to see MPs standing up for the arts and creative industries, and to see so many people on twitter joining in with the #artsdebate hashtag.

Labour in government knew the importance of the arts, which is why we massively strengthened the DCMS, brought in free entry to museums and galleries, and trebled the budget for the Arts Council. And we must all remember that public support for the arts is repaid over and over.

For example, there was a £5,000 subsidy to support the stage production of The Woman in Black.  Since then the production company has paid back more than £12m in tax to the Treasury. And public subsidy allows for the willingness of the arts to take risks, like the hugely successful Matilda, which the Royal Shakespeare Company say would just not have been possible without public “seedcorn” funding.

We can all see the massive success stories.  But while we celebrate that success we must not let it mask the reality that the arts are facing a difficult time, especially for smaller organisations and outside London.

Behind the scenes, especially in the regions, there is an arts emergency, with the Arts Council – which provides funds for the arts all around the country – already cut by 35% and with more to come, and local government having their budgets slashed by a third. The situation is so difficult that we have to forge a survival strategy for the arts.

That’s why on Thursday, I went to the Coventry Transport Museum with Shadow Culture Minister Dan Jarvis for the latest meeting of our Creative Councillors Network, which (through the Local Government Association) brings together Labour culture leads from all over the country.

Our Network supports councillors who are facing such difficult choices in local government, bringing them together to discuss the challenges facing them, to discuss the importance of the arts in local communities and share best practice.

There are many things that local authorities can and are doing to support the arts over and above public money.  For example, sharing back office functions, granting licenses, offering up their public spaces for arts events.

Local government support for the arts is vital – as Joe Anderson, the mayor of Liverpool, says, the arts have been the rocket fuel for his city’s economy.

But we also need a coherent strategy for the arts and creative industries from central government.

It’s no good Maria Miller saying that times aren’t difficult for the arts.

It’s no good the government just pointing to current success and saying everything’s fine. It isn’t.

It takes years to build the arts and creative industries up – but they can be destroyed at the stroke of a pen.

The government needs to work with the arts and creative industries to develop a strategy that: ensures the opportunities are there for young people to experience and participate in the arts; that artists and arts organisations have the right infrastructure for funding and finance; that Britain’s creative talent and intellectual property – a precious natural resource – is protected; that there is a specific, separate focus on the nations and regions; and because British creativity is recognised all around the world, we must have co-ordinated work – including  BIS, UKTI, the Foreign Office and the British Council –  to showcase the best of British.

And running through any culture strategy must be a fundamental principle – that the arts must be a right for everyone, not the preserve of a privileged elite. Not only is this important in principle, but to carry on as world leaders we need to continue to draw on the widest possible pool of talent.

Britain’s arts and creative industries are important for our future.  They must have unequivocal backing from the Government, and a strong Secretary of State with a seat at the Cabinet table.

Harriet Harman is the Shadow Secretary of State for Culture and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

Latest

  • News Latest London Mayor poll shows rise in support for Khan and Hodge, but Jowell still leads

    Latest London Mayor poll shows rise in support for Khan and Hodge, but Jowell still leads

    New polling for the London Mayoral race shows Tessa Jowell is still the most popular candidate among Labour supporters in London – and has even more support among Londoners as a whole. The retiring Dulwich and Norwood MP comes top of potential Labour candidates with 26%, no change from last month. When including non-Labour supporters, this figure rises to 28%. However, Shadow London minister Sadiq Khan has seen a boost in his support, rising eight points to 19%. This appears to have […]

    Read more →
  • Comment There’s no point criticising Stuart Broad without looking at the real issue at hand

    There’s no point criticising Stuart Broad without looking at the real issue at hand

    The ill-judged Twitter comments of England cricketer Stuart Broad tell us less about him and more about society’s need to focus on the issues that really matter. Given my openly stated wish to not just raise the minimum wage, as Labour has pledged to do, but to go further and implement the Living Wage, you may expect to hear me criticising the fast bowler. Well, I won’t be. His comment was certainly not his smartest move: “I’ve heard if you […]

    Read more →
  • Comment The values of our NHS should be at the heart of our economy

    The values of our NHS should be at the heart of our economy

    So we’re now within 100 days of the General Election. I bet most people outside the Westminster bubble won’t see it in those terms, or care, for that matter. In fact, they are probably already fed up with the constant TV coverage about it. For many people, ‘100 days’ simply means three more pay cheques where their basic outgoings exceed what they’re bringing in. It means three more calls to a payday lender to bridge the difference. It might even […]

    Read more →
  • Featured Kinnock calls for an end to “sniping from behind” following Milburn and Hutton comments

    Kinnock calls for an end to “sniping from behind” following Milburn and Hutton comments

    Lord Neil Kinnock has waded into the debate over Labour’s policy offer ahead of the general election and called for an end to internal fights within the party. He said was reluctant to enter into the current conversation but following interventions from people such as Tony Blair and Alan Milburn, Kinnock said their criticisms of Labour’s current strategy were ““so great that it requires a response”. This comes after Milburn along with John Hutton openly criticised Labour’s policy on the […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Politicians who recognise that Cameron is wrong on immigration must have the conviction to say so

    Politicians who recognise that Cameron is wrong on immigration must have the conviction to say so

    On Tuesday, David Cameron said Britain would be a “better, stronger country” with fewer migrants. So, if you’re a migrant, sorry about that. I guess it’s off to the ferry terminal for you (that includes you too, Dad). I’m actually a little confused as to the acceptable discourse around migration. Apparently it’s totally ok, even welcome, for the Prime Minister to blithely observe that fewer migrants would be good for the country. But when Mark Reckless says UKIP would ask EU migrants to […]

    Read more →