In the up-and-coming election, there will be inevitable cuts in the funding of the Department of Culture, whichever party gets into power. The three potential Culture Secretaries have a difficult job on their hands to persuade the leaders of the importance of the arts and why they deserve adequate and continued funding. I mean, it’s far easier to see the effects of investment in weapons of mass destruction as opposed to weapons of social nourishment.
However, there are strong arguments in the arts’ favour based on solid statistics and example. Art, especially in a time of social and economic depression, can be a crucial tool of regeneration, investment and aid.
Speaking recently at the Conservative arts conference, Alan Davey, Chief Executive of the Arts Council England, commented, “the arts ought to be a key part of any civilised government’s mission.”
He added: “I hope any government would not return to a Millsian view of the most efficient creation of wealth being the sole aim of any society. To [fund the arts] is rational, economically sound, and is essential to our quality of life.”
Art schemes have been used successfully as rehabilitation for young offenders, such as a recent scheme at Feltham Young Offenders’ Institute, which culminated in a show of the inmates’ painting, sculpture, printmaking and gilding at the National Gallery.
In times of social and economic depression, art can be a crucial tool of regeneration
Investment in culture is not just socially beneficial; the economic impact of theatre is £2.6bn, with every public pound invested earning £2. Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture brought £800m into the city, and last year’s Manchester International Festival generated £35.7m. In the immortal words of that paragon of our youth, John Major, gazing from our television sets through his rightly oversized 80s glasses: “Man cannot live on GDP alone”. Quite agree there, John.
So what exactly are the three Culture Secretary candidates proposing as their policies? They have all boasted credentials of being acquainted with popular culture. Don Foster, the Lib Dem candidate sounded his support for Florence and the Machine and Dizzee Rascal. “Their performance at the Brits, which I think all three of us were at, was bettered only by the performance of Lady Gaga.” Down with the kids, isn’t he?
Also in the Lib Dem quarter, they emphasise that the arts are no longer seen as an after-thought or added extra, and pledge to “maintain current levels of investment in the arts and creative industries”. Labour has acknowledged how art contributes to Britain’s common good, as well as its economy. However, prospects under a Conservative government seem bleak, as the arts were not mentioned in their manifesto.
Overall, it would seem flippant to base one’s vote upon the parties’ arts manifestoes alone. However, if one believes that they are essential to nurturing a strong sense of cultural identity, then it may be an idea to skim through the cultural ideas the parties have for the future of society. I mean, what would this country do without an annual dollop of ‘The X Factor’ and Cheryl Cole, hey?