Thursday, 25 April 2013

Government questions investment in the arts - more trouble ahead for local organisations?

The Dukes' upcoming Robin Hood is publicly funded - how much more money will it bring into the local area when it opens?

Despite delivering a report on the economic value of the Arts to the local area two years ago, there could be further testing times ahead for local organisations such as The Dukes.

In her first keynote address to the sector at the British Musuem last week, Culture Secretary Maria Miller's first keynote address called on the sector to help her make the economic case for investing in the arts.

“Today I want to argue that culture does not simply have a role to play in bringing about a return to growth," she said. "Rather, it should be central to these efforts.

“Understanding the economic potential which the arts and culture offer both directly and indirectly is essential. The arts are not an add-on; they are fundamental to our success as a nation.”

Culture Secretary Maria Miller
At the event at the British Museum in London, the culture secretary said she was already making the economic case for investment in arts and culture to the Treasury, ahead of the next spending review, but called on the sector to help her “hammer home the value of culture to our economy”.

And although she acknowledged that the economic case for culture was not the only one that has to be made, Miller said that leaders in the cultural sector had to have the confidence to go beyond intrinsic benefits such as education and wellbeing, and “more directly point out how [they] can directly add to the bottom line”.

She pointed to philanthropy as a crucial part of the government’s longer-term strategy to fund the arts as well as “international opportunities” that will benefit Britain.

"Similarly we must look to develop the commercial opportunities that exist within the cultural sector," Miller added. "[...] entrepreneurial endeavour doesn’t come at the price of cultural excellence."

And she dismissed protecting the budget for arts and culture: “Faced with a crippling budget deficit, there are big choices to be made at both a national and a local level, few of which are easy, or palatable… Some in the sector say that arts funding should be treated as a special case. [But] culture cannot be seen in isolation at a time of unprecedented economic challenge.”

While a spokesperson local arts organisations told virtual-lancaster they will not be making joint comment on the keynote, they have already banded together to promote the work being done across the district through the Lancaster Arts City initiative delivered by the Lancaster Arts Partnership.

LAC is a collection of professional arts organisations from across the district, including The Dukes, Grand Theatre, More Music, Ludus Dance, Live at LICA, Litfest, Green Close Studios, The Platform and Storey Gallery, that have joined forces to promote Lancaster as an exciting cultural destination.

Lancaster Arts City signposts the professional performances, exhibitions and events taking place on our doorstep, and celebrates the fantastic cluster of arts organisations in the area. To launch the brand we have also come up with two exciting new initiatives: First Fridays and a free mobile ‘what’s on’ app for Android and Apple devices.

Formed in 2009, the Lancaster Arts Partnership is a consortium of companies working together to champion and promote the strategic development of excellent arts activities in Lancaster District, and has delivered its own report on the economic value of the arts to the area in 2011 (Word document).

Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chair of Arts Council England, which funds much of our local arts, made the following statement in response to Maria Miller's speech.

"We welcome the Secretary of State's acknowledgment, on behalf of the Government, that public funding of arts and culture is essential in providing seed corn investment to help attract private money," he said. "As well as arts and culture's crucial contribution to our quality of life, this is also an industry that delivers real economic value for our country. Research that we will publish in the coming days will demonstrate that, in return for less than one tenth of one per cent of government funding, arts and culture provides half a per cent of all employment in England and is one of its top 15 export products.

"As the Secretary of State says, we do need to make the economic case. And while doing so, we won't forget that it is not all about money. Every civilised society in man's history has felt the need to express and enjoy itself through music, through performance, storytelling or visual works of art. We are no different and the other vital return on the government's investment is that it enables this need to be met for many, not for the few."

Also responding the the speech, Sir Nicholas Hynter, director of the National Theatre told the Daily Telegraph: "According to a report published this week by Nesta (formerly the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts), the creative economy employs 2.5 million people in this country and makes up 10 per cent of the overall economy. Growth in employment in the creative sector runs at about four times the average.

"Let’s not imagine that the Government isn’t aware of the importance of this. It spends around £210 million a year on tax relief to the film industry. And more recently it decided to extend a tax credit to the video games industry, a major feather in the cap for the arts minister, Ed Vaizey. Tax foregone by the Treasury is the same as money spent by the DCMS – it is all public money.

"So the Government is content to spend taxpayers’ money. But without an overall policy for the creative economy, it risks being spent piecemeal and ineffectively – here a tax break, there some money for skills development, here some money for arts and museums – and doesn’t link up with the education system or tax policy.

Also speaking at the event, Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, said: “The culture sector is the most effective and efficient, and in economic terms it’s the best run in the world.”

He added that, in her discussions with the Treasury, Miller could “argue with confidence that the sector is uniquely well run”.

Also at the address, Ed Vaizey, culture minister, said the publication of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's cultural plan is “imminent”. No further details are available at present.

• Lancaster Arts City:

• Lancaster Arts Partnership: The economic value of the arts to Lancaster and Morecambe (2011 report, word document)

Click here to read Maria Miller's full speech

See reaction to the speech on Twitter under hashtag #culturematters

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