Speech

Arts keynote speech

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

19 May 2010 The Roundhouse, London. Thank you very much for coming. And thank you to the Roundhouse for hosting today’s event. The last …

19 May 2010
The Roundhouse, London.

Thank you very much for coming. And thank you to the Roundhouse for hosting today’s event.

The last time I was here was to see La Clique, a totally brilliant reinvention of the lost art of cabaret. There are plenty of risque moments, and in a way this is a risky moment for me as the new Culture Secretary.

As The Guardian’s Charlotte Higgins put it to me when she sent a congratulations email: “If you hurt the arts I’ll break your legs”…

And thrilled as I am to be Culture Secretary, as I look at the public spending round that lies ahead I do feel a bit of “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” - what Henry IV said when he had insomnia and what I rather feel when I consider the responsibilities involved.

So let me start by saying something to reassure Charlotte, something I hope you already know which is, I am totally passionate about arts and culture in our country. It is the most incredible privilege to do what I am doing and I am unbelievably excited.

For me culture is not just about the economic value of our creative industries - It is what defines us as a civilisation. Culture helps us understand the world around us, explain it, and sometimes escape from it - as Picasso put it: “washing the dust of daily life from our souls”.

I want to read you the following poem written to Stalin by Russian dissident Osip Mandelstam:

You gave me my shoe-size in earth with bars around it.
Where did it get you? Nowhere.
You left me my lips and they shape words, even in silence.

He wrote that whilst imprisoned by Stalin, and later he died en route to a Siberian prison camp. But the incredible power of his poetry survived and I actually read that poem for the first time on the tube as one of Transport for London’s “poems on the underground” - so thank you Boris - it’s nice to have a mayor who is so committed to culture.

I am incredibly lucky to have in my team Ed Vaizey, who is going to be a brilliant Culture Minister, and who is equally passionate about our cultural sector.

And I want you to know that the government’s commitment to the arts goes right to the top.

George Osborne, gave a really important keynote speech to the Tate last December in which he outlined what I hope will be some key financial reforms for helping the arts.

David Cameron, along with his wife Samantha who has forged her career in the creative industries, is someone who has a commitment to the arts.

And I have already spoken to David Laws, Chief Secretary to the Treasury about our budget. He fully understands all of the arguments that I am going to be making today.

I do want to talk today about what we can do to help weather the storm. But as this is my first speech as Culture Secretary, I hope you won’t mind if I start with some broader thoughts about the role of arts and culture in society.

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British cultural life at its best

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I remember, in the run-up to the election, going to see Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem at the Apollo Theatre. 

That play could potentially be seen as a real challenge - it pits unattractive, nimby villagers against a man reviewers described as an “alcoholic, drug-dealing gypsy”.

Liz Forgan was visibly worried when I told her I was going to see it, but she needn’t have been. It was an extraordinary performance on the concept of Englishness.

But let’s look at the story behind the play because it represents a powerful symbol of British cultural life operating at its best.

It was developed using a mixture of public and private investment; it came from a small, publicly-funded stage in Sloane Square then transferring to the commercial sector and bringing money back into the publicly-funded theatre that nurtured it.

It soon became a phenomenon destined for Broadway and for worldwide success.

A perfect example of how subsidising our cultural life is one of the best investments we can make in this country;

And how the subsidised sector can help set our most exciting talents on the path to global commercial success.

From the same path came talents such as Danny Boyle, who progressed from the Joint Stock Theatre Company in Birmingham to grossing $360 million worldwide with Slumdog Millionaire.

Public money mixed with private. Cultural achievement coming together with cultural enterprise to create public wealth - both financial wealth and artistic wealth.

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Art for art’s sake

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But when I was watching Jerusalem - I wasn’t thinking about creative exports or leveraged investment.

I was enjoying artistic excellence.  Art for art’s sake.

That is my starting point as Secretary of State for Culture.

Successive governments have nurtured that excellence with the result that Britain has one of the most vibrant, extraordinary cultural sectors in the world.# We win more Oscars than any country except America.

  • We have more world-class museums and galleries than anywhere else in the world.
  • We have a theatre scene that - in London alone - grosses more than half a billion pounds in box office receipts last year.
  • We have - in the British Library - the largest and most comprehensive research collection in the world, hosting more than 150 million items from every era of written history, and
  • our creative industries, that employ around 2 million people

And as the global spotlight falls on this country ahead of London 2012, we are ready to show the world exactly what we have to offer by staging the greatest cultural festival in a generation.

So however tough the spending round we face may be, we must never forget that our responsibility for the arts and culture - my responsibility for the arts and culture - is one that is not simply for this generation of art lovers, but for many generations to come.

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Key principles

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So what are the key principles which will define this government’s approach to culture and the arts?

First principle, as I hope it’s clear, we support the mixed economy.

One of the best things about our cultural scene is that we have managed to combine the best of European-style public support for the arts with elements of philanthropy.

Different types of funding help support different types of creativity. Indeed our biggest cultural organisations often say that public support is one of the best possible ways of leveraging private support.

Second principle, culture and the arts are for everyone, not just the lucky few.

We support the policy of free admission to museums and galleries. Indeed I pay tribute to Chris Smith for battling for it and introducing it.

We are proud of a public library network which enables everyone access to great literature, learning and information without charge, no matter where they live.

And I really hope that, even in the tough financial environment, we develop and expand the many excellent education programmes being run by so many of our cultural organisations.

Third principle, we support the arms length principle.

Whilst elected ministers must hold the Arts Council to account for how they and the bodies spend taxpayers’ money, we do not want to politicise funding decisions by making ministers responsible for individual grants. That should rightly remain the remit of the Arts Council.

Finally, we should credit the last government with the way in which arts policy has become a much more mainstream part of government policy as a whole.

John Major created what is now DCMS and gave arts a place at the top table, but since then we have seen cultural policy take a front seat in economic, education and regeneration policy-making.

I want that to continue.

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A tough spending environment

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That’s the good news I hope.

But now let me address the issue which I think is top of everyone’s mind, namely the tough public spending environment we now face, which will inevitably impact on the spending budget in the cultural sector.

Putting the economy back on its feet and restoring the nation’s finances are things that are in all of our interests - not least the cultural sector which needs a public sector and private sector able to invest generously in the arts.

For that investment in arts and culture made by the government we get a terrific bang for our buck. But the truth is that in the current climate all budgets - large and small - are going to have to be re-examined. There will be in-year cuts in the budget and a tough public spending settlement for the next three years.

But what I can promise you is this: culture will not be singled out as a soft target.

And we will be open, fair and as quick as possible in letting people know what their funding settlement will be for the next spending round.

Ed and I will champion the value culture brings - economic value, value to society and to individuals, value as a nurturing ground for the creative industries.

And I can also promise that, in any discussions over spending, cuts in administration and bureaucracy will always be considered ahead of decisions that could affect creative output.

That’s why one of David Cameron’s first decisions as Prime Minister was to cut ministerial pay by 5%. And my first decision as Secretary of State was to cancel all ministerial cars - saving £250,000 per annum. On top of this I have asked every employee in my department to come up with one idea how we can save money from our own budget as part of a project headed by John Penrose.

I congratulate the Arts Council who will reduce their operating costs to 6.6% this year - meaning savings of £6.5 million.

But I want all of us to go even further, which is why I am asking all grant-giving organisations to reduce their admin costs to 5% of the budgets they distribute.

We must be able to look artists and arts organisations in the eye and assure them that no grants have been withdrawn because too much money is getting lost in the system.

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Never again

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But with your support I want to turn the current funding crisis into an opportunity.

An opportunity to reform the way arts are funded in this country so that never again are they so vulnerable to a sudden boom and bust in funding.

So I have started a major project to look at how we can be better at helping you to tap into other sources of funding. Not as a replacement to public funding, but as an additional pillar of support.

This is not a short term project or a gimmick. I believe it will be a twenty year strategy to open up new streams of funding and change the culture of giving in this country.

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Reforming the lottery

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The first major change that I am announcing today is a reform to the National Lottery.

I say “reform”, but of course I really mean “restore”. Because I want to get the lottery back to how it was first conceived by John Major in 1994.

Since then, the lottery has generated £8 billion for heritage and the arts. But over the past ten years it has lost its way - funding schemes that do not fall within the four original good causes.

That’s why I will restore arts and heritage, as well as grass roots sport, to their original 20% shares of National Lottery good cause funding.

And, because I want to see a rise in the amount going to voluntary and community organisations, I will make sure that those funds are protected and the Big Lottery Fund focuses its support exclusively on that sector.

It is a change that will happen progressively between now and 2012, and I intend to lay an Order before parliament to implement it before the end of September.

We will also be progressing plans to replace the system of lottery taxation to a gross profits tax basis which will raise millions extra for lottery good causes.

Ultimately these changes will provide in excess of £100 million each year for arts and heritage - £50 million each - a figure that will be even higher once the lottery ceases to fund its share of the Olympics and its cultural festival.

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Building the culture of giving

The second major change I want to set out today is a longer term one and it’s one I’m going to need the help and support of everyone in this room - and that’s philanthropy.

At its heart is a cultural shift that chimes with all of David Cameron’s ideas on social responsibility - one that draws on and enhances the culture of giving in this country.

And I want to say thank you.  Even in the face of the recession, private sector support for culture totalled £655 million last year. To all those who give to culture, whatever the size of your donations, I want to say thank you.

In fact, I have today written to the country’s top 200 cultural donors to thank them for what they have done and ask for their advice as to how we can nurture more giving.

Less than 3% of charitable giving in this country goes to cultural bodies, too many of whom are still constrained by their dependence on public subsidy. And only 8% of cultural organisations have a legacy programme, so much more can be done.

And I particularly want to help smaller organisations to help themselves by strengthening fundraising capacity across the cultural sector.

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Three areas of practical action

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There are three areas of action that I want to highlight today that can help us manage this shift to a society with a deeper commitment to cultural philanthropy.

First, the reform of Gift Aid.

The current regime is not working as hard as it could to stimulate giving to culture. It should be simpler and easier to give, and for cultural bodies to thank and recognise their donors in an appropriate manner.

Of course, we already have a tax relief that has played a huge role in enhancing the collections of museums and galleries across the country: the Acceptance in Lieu scheme.

For a hundred years now, this scheme has allowed the transfer of important heritage assets into public ownership in lieu of liability to inheritance tax and estate duties.  Most recently is the acquisition of the archive of JG Ballard.

Thirdly, I know that many of you work in an environment where you need to commission and plan productions, programmes, exhibitions and tours several years in advance.

Where it would help you to plan with the assurance of long-term funding, I believe government should offer that support.

I want to reward high-performing organisations by moving to longer-term funding settlements that would allow you to plan with greater confidence, and would reassure donors and sponsors that their support would complement sustained public sector investment.

These could be for five years, or for even longer. And they could help those organisations which already have, or want to develop, endowments.

I would like to see major cultural organisations receiving these agreements in return for coming forward with even more ambitious fundraising programmes than you currently have.

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Cultural education

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Finally a word about the role of arts in education.

I remember being made to sit through the entire cycle of The Ring at the age of 11 by a rather zealous music teacher. It was hard going. But maybe, just maybe, he planted in me a seed that has given me a love of music that has lasted with me to this day.

The tragedy is that for so many children that simply doesn’t happen.

We need to win the argument with the education establishment that music and art education is not simply something that is “nice to do if you can”. Not just a distraction from literacy and numeracy targets, but something to help you achieve literacy and numeracy targets.

Research has shown that learning to play an instrument actually enhances the ability to remember words, meaning that musically trained students can remember 17% more verbal information that those without musical training.

Working with Michael Gove, I want to ensure that the superb cultural offer available in some of our state schools is available in them all.

We have also suffered in arts education from a plethora of well-meaning initiatives.

So we will aim for a simpler, more streamlined approach which recognises the need for a disciplined approach to the acquisition of skills as the foundation of creativity.

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Conclusion

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Grayson Perry spoke to the Royal Philharmonic Society last week about the “insanely difficult” things that artists do, and that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve excellence in any field.
 
I have been in this job for only 10,000 minutes so I hope you will bear with me as I learn the ropes.  I can only promise that I intend to do the very best for culture and the arts in this country, to keep listening to everyone in this room, and - hopefully - to emerge with my legs intact.

Thank you.