“What Makes Our Hearts Sing”
Thank you Roly.
100 years ago Dylan Thomas was born. Thomas’ poetry was some of the first poetry I read at school. My familiarity with the South Wales Valleys was, perhaps, why it resonated with me. And I would like to start today by reminding you all of how he described his feelings for poetry.
He said: “Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing.”
What he was describing was how poetry affected him. How it caused him to react. Or perhaps do nothing… How it elicited a response.
And I think the same can be said of all cultural forms. Whether we’re talking about our performing arts, our museums and galleries, our creative industries, our built heritage, or any other form of culture, it is clear that culture matters to us because it elicits a response.
That response is simply a part of being human.
But it is clearly the case that culture can mean very different things to different people. It elicits different responses. And it can mean different things at different times.
As well as being the year of Dylan Thomas’ birth, 1914 also saw war break out across Europe. This year we are commemorating the centenary of First World War, an event which fundamentally shaped the world we live in today.
And a central part of those commemorations involves looking back to that generation of artists who lived at the time of that conflict and produced their work during it.
But their work will have been viewed at the time differently to how we see it now. And the different views we’ve heard of how the First World War should be commemorated show that interpretations can still today differ radically.
But what is constant is the fact that these artists… their music, their paintings, their prose and their poetry… continue to move and inspire us. They touch our emotions in a way that enriches our lives. They provoke a reaction.
Much has changed in the decades since that war. Technology has developed and we now live in a world with smart phones, apps, satellite technology, and mobile broadband. But one thing remains central – and that is the importance of culture.
Let me elaborate on this by quoting Steve Jobs who said:
“ It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”
In other words, technology alone cannot make a difference, It is a focus on the art… or the design… or on the humanities more widely that will make a difference… that will cause the heart to sing.
As human beings we want to feel uplifted, enriched and, above all, moved by the culture that’s around us. We want our hearts to sing.
When I look back over these past 18 months or so as Culture Secretary, it is the moments that made my heart sing that I remember the most vividly….the moments that moved me….the extraordinary performance of Peter Grimes I saw in The Maltings at Aldeburgh last year.
Seeing my son’s face absorbed in Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear’s performance in Othello at The National – a production that was so believable, so powerful, and so painful, because of its modern-day setting….. listening spellbound to the eternal music of John Tavener at Christmas sung by the choir at Winchester Cathedral, shortly after his death.
Or the inmates of Erlestoke Prison and their performance of West Side Story with Pimlico Opera. I talked to them afterwards about the way the experience helped them – as one man said to me: ‘it’s my therapy’.
But culture comes in many forms and we need to recognise that too……. A magazine photograph; an unexpected song, half-heard on the radio; or a film being watched for the umpteenth time from the family sofa – they can all, in their different ways, weave a spell that lifts you way beyond the hum-drum of normal life.
Your choices – and the moments that have moved you and made your hearts sing – would of course be different to mine. Because we all approach culture in different ways and our reactions will also differ.
The young person, collar turned up at a bus stop in the rain with his or her ipod plugged in, may be listening to Elgar, or Mumford and Sons, or even an undiscovered artist. But whatever it might be, a connection is being made.
Our Heritage is one of the most universal and accessible forms of culture and the envy of many of our international tourists. But we also understand the local nature of heritage, how it helps build communities and give individuals a sense of belonging.
Buildings, homes, places of work… all shape the way we live and they tell a story of where we have come from.
So it’s right that Heritage is part of our how we define sustainable development in this country, that local authorities are required to look at the cultural impact - the impact on the historic and built environment as part of any planning development.
Culture matters. That’s why it holds a unique place in our hearts.
And this ‘place’ seems to be expanding as each year passes. Changes in broadcasting and the rise of the internet mean there has been a revolution in access. Overwhelmingly it is culture and creativity that is leading the way in providing the content that is being accessed.
It should come as no particular surprise that, these days, many of us no longer define ourselves solely by our work, or by our role in society. As the ties created by gender, age and social background become less rigid, so – increasingly - we define ourselves by our cultural experiences and interests.
These are the things which reflect what our lives are about.
And that is why a core part of my job… is ensuring that the public investment continues to help create and nurture new, challenging work, ….and also championing the enriching role that is played by arts and culture across government.
Let me tell you now how I go about this – the arguments I deploy.
British culture in the world
To begin with, there’s its central place in shaping our national identity. The idiosyncrasy of ‘Britishness’ is a wonderful thing. It is a curious blend of different experiences, different cultures and the implicit creativity that is a natural consequence of living for centuries in a free and open society.
And central to our national identity is our proud history, our rich heritage and our cultural pedigree… our art, literature and music delights the world… and our museums, galleries and historic houses encourage the world to our shores.
Britain’s cultural reputation has an enormous impact on our global standing– our reputation as a place worth doing business with; our reputation as a place worth visiting; and our reputation as a place worth experiencing culture in its many varied forms.
In the last few months I’ve seen this at first hand across different time zones, from the public anticipation of a fabulous new David Hockney exhibition in San Francisco, to the enormous excitement of middle-aged politicians and businesspeople meeting Joey from War Horse in Shanghai.
Our reputation for cultural excellence enhances the way in which the world sees us. I’ve recently signed bilateral agreements with my counterparts from Korea and China. They want partnerships with the UK because of the strength of our culture and creative industries. As research carried out for the British Council has demonstrated, the reputation of UK culture equips us with a level of trust, soft power and influence to which other major countries can only aspire.
That reputation, with culture at its heart, is great for business. And that’s why, when the GREAT campaign is shamelessly promoting Britain overseas, culture in all its manifestations has been put squarely at the centre of the campaign.
From Shakespeare to Steve McQueen, British cultural excellence opens hearts and minds, sustains dialogue between nations, and enables cultural exchanges which have a public benefit from Jarrow to Jakarta.
And, don’t forget, this is a two-way street.
So when an exhibition of exquisite Japanese objects – donated to the V&A by one of our great philanthropists – came to the museum in my constituency last autumn, the craftsmanship of their Japanese creators reached an entirely new audience, right at the heart of the community.
Cultural diplomacy is something that we are wonderfully well-placed to make the most of, and many of you here today are already doing so with outstanding success.
Diplomacy is no longer the sole prerogative of Governments. Civil society, artists and cultural institutions enhance our diplomatic efforts. We see this writ large in the work of the British Museum,…..taking the Cyrus Cylinder – the first charter of human rights – around the world.
Or here at the British Library, in their partnership with the national libraries of China and India. This year’s UK/Russia Year of Culture will enable us to tackle some challenging human rights issues with Russia, both in our bilateral relationship and on the wider global stage.
A strong cultural sector within a strong Britain benefits us all socially and economically.
Now I don’t want to labour this. But last April I made a speech at the British Museum which made this point, as part of a much broader argument. But then one strand was extracted, extrapolated and amplified until the message sounded like the only justification for supporting the arts is its value to the economy.
What a wonderful example of selective hearing.
As I said last April and as I am restating today, the economic argument is one of many arguments we should use when we make our case around Westminster and Whitehall.
It’s not a case of choosing one argument instead of another.
Culture’s value to the economy is not, after all, at the expense of its artistic credibility. War Horse and Matilda are testament to that. In fact, the different arguments complement and bolster one another.
With your support I was able to speak in those terms to my colleagues in the Treasury… and we were successful in securing a Spending Review settlement that was, significantly better than projected and significantly better than most other areas of Government expenditure outside of Healthcare.
A smaller than expected reduction in funding for the arts and museums along with significant new freedoms and, a new vision for English Heritage, backed by capital funding. It was a good settlement and it grew out of the convincing arguments we were all able to make.
I make absolutely no apology for emphasising culture’s economic potential in the debate about public spending on the arts. But there are so many arguments to be made and they need to be nuanced for each and every audience.
The key for me – and for you – is the need to make the economic, the social and the cultural arguments for our sector. They cannot be mutually exclusive.
Culture and Britain’s Creativity
So let me repeat, if I may, Steve Jobs’ quote:
“ Technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”
It is our culture that underpins our creativity and our creativity which yields the results which might well be technological developments, but can also make our hearts sing.
Jony Ive, the British designer at Apple, is living proof of this. But so too are the 1.6 million people who work in the UK’s creative industries. These people contribute to a sector worth more than £70 billion last year and which grew faster than any other sector in the economy.
I absolutely believe that our arts, culture and creative industries here in this country are not only the best in the world, but that there are vital to our future national well-being and prosperity.
And we therefore have to make sure that our culture continues to drive the creativity of the generations to come.
We all know our children have to leave school equipped to face a competitive world, with certain core skills. And that includes having developed a sense of their culture and having their creativity encouraged.
It is right that we are emphasising science, technology, engineering and maths in the school curriculum. These are subjects which have been neglected for too long. But the arts remain a core component of any child’s education. They are a must-have not an add-on.
After all, what British education is complete without experiencing Shakespeare’s plays? What sense can be made of the museums on Exhibition Road without a grasp of Victorian history? How can engineering be understood without design?
This is what Steve Jobs was getting at when he said that technology alone is not enough.
Our Government is making great strides to ensure the arts are a central part of every child’s education.
We are putting over £300 million into cultural education, forging partnerships between schools and cultural organisations.
The revamped history curriculum… the guarantee that every child will study drama, dance, art and music right the way up to 14… the central role that English plays in the ebacc, ensuring that every child will get to rehearse and perform plays and poetry during their GCSEs.
The emphasis on the production of creative work in the national curriculum.
The increased funding for the Sorrell Foundation’s Art and Design Clubs. The Heritage Schools Programme - English Heritage working with schools to organise visits to local historical sites and providing materials to help teachers. The investment of almost £200 million into music education hubs up and down the country.
Funding the brilliant Music and Dance Scheme to enable exceptionally talented pupils such as those I met on my recent visit to Wells Cathedral School to attend the best music and dance schools in the country.
The arts also have to be central in a child’s education. And why I agree with those who say an A belongs in STEM.
Culture and creativity play a central role in any well-rounded child’s education and rather than shying away from that - we should talk about it, promote it and emphasise the importance of STEAM.
I’ve been talking this afternoon about how I see the value of culture. This shapes my – and my department’s - work. The DCMS is a lean department and even if we do, as is often said, punch above our weight, we won’t get very far without the support of all of you.
So, as I asked at the British Museum last year, I really want to continue to work with you over the months and years to come. Keep on making the arguments, set the cultural agenda. All of you – and the wider community you represent – are the very best advocates for why culture matters, and what it can do for everyone.
Please keep on creating the amazing work that inspires, and moves us in so many different ways.
But above all, carry on making hearts sing.