‘The Creative Ecology’: Speech at State of the Arts

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

State of the Arts conference, London

Good morning.

The State of the Arts conference has, in one year, established itself as the most important occasion in the calendar for the discussion of cultural policy. So today is a great opportunity for me to set out where we are now and what Government sees as the challenges ahead.

I want to take the opportunity today to make the case for the importance of the creative ecology - an alliance between the subsidised and commercial arts; the professional and the voluntary arts; and the arts and the creative industries.

I want to argue that arts policy should take this creative ecology into account, in order to see the bigger picture and the wider opportunities. We are a hugely creative nation. We have tough times to face, and we will get through them if we face them together.

But the great strength of the arts is its ecology - subsidised arts feeding the commercial arts, the voluntary arts and the amateur arts ensuring the creative spirit is present in every corner of the nation.

And what creative spirit it is. Whether it’s Rory Kinnear’s Hamlet, Akram Khan’s Gnosis or the Halle’s Mahler season. Or whether it’s Newcastle’s new City Library, Burberry’s collection last year or James Dyson’s beautiful bladeless fan that’s sitting in my office.

We should never forget the UK is still revered around the world for its culture and its creativity. Tough times can make us think the glass is half empty. My view is that our cup is still plentiful.


Nevertheless, much of the debate about the arts focuses solely on the level of grant funding, so let me begin by talking about money.

It’s worth reminding people - and some still seem oblivious to this fact - that last year’s settlement took place against the background of the largest budget deficit in peacetime history. 

The economic situation means that we are borrowing £120 million a day; this is more than the British Museum, the Tate and the National Gallery receive in a year; one pound in every four that we spend is borrowed; only Spain and Ireland have deficits greater than ours.

We never pretended that we could maintain arts funding at current levels.  No one who was being honest about the state of the public finances could possibly have argued that.  And anyone who pretends that it would have been possible is being at best disingenuous.

So although I am under no illusions that these next few years are going to be tough, I believe we have done all we can to help.

  • Despite a decrease in grant-in-aid, an increase in Lottery funding means the Arts Council’s budget will fall by just 11 per cent over the next four years;
  • Core funding for arts organisations funded by the Arts Council has been protected, and will fall by less than 15 per cent over the Parliament;
  • Funding for our national museums will fall by just 15 per cent, and the decision to release £143 million in reserves will make a significant difference to many of their finances;
  • Renaissance funding will fall by just 15 per cent.  And the increase in Heritage Lottery Funding will help here as well - more than a third of HLF’s grants go to museums;
  • Lottery funding for film will increase by 60 per cent, from about £27 million to about £43 million;
  • In order to help protect the frontline, DCMS is also reducing its costs by 50 per cent.
  • And £80 million over four years to be matched by private giving to boost philanthropy

Funding across the arts will be more than £1billion in 2011/12. That’s still a hugely significant sum.  It’s broadly in line with the sums of money that have been received over the last fifteen years, since the creation of the Lottery.

It’s interesting to see that combined Lottery and grant-in-aid funding for the Arts Council has only beaten 1997 levels in two subsequent years - and in each of those years by less than one per cent. So let’s not pretend that we are moving from feast to famine.

We have also ensured that we have simplified the landscape. So we have moved responsibilities from the MLA to the Arts Council, to create a single home for the arts, regional museums and libraries, giving the Arts Council a much stronger voice to make the case for culture at a local and regional level. We have created a single home for British film in the British Film Institute. And we are also establishing Creative England to support the creative industries throughout the country.

But at the same time we recognise the challenge faced in other parts of the public sector. I know that one of the biggest worries at the moment is local authority funding. The Government is passionately committed to devolving power to the local level, to locally elected officials and to communities.

On the whole, local government knows the needs of local people far better than a central government department ever can. And while I might not agree with every decision made by every local authority, I absolutely respect their right to make that decision themselves.

The last thing the arts need is a Whitehall Minister demanding changes to every decision in a local authority that he or she doesn’t agree with. I know a lot of local councillors and that would be hugely counter-productive.

The challenge for the arts is to work with their local authorities.

Persuade a Council leader that the local library or the local theatre or the local arts centre is a fundamental part, not just of the arts in their area, but their entire community, and that it can deliver more than just an arts service, it can deliver health, education, social services and act as a hub for the community, and you’re three-quarters of the way there.

The good local authorities get this already. For all the bad news I also hear good news in places like Newcastle and Gateshead and Reading, working to join all their services up, thinking of the arts as part of a much wider offer to their communities. The challenge we jointly face is how to help the good ones share that expertise with the ones who are still struggling, and help you to win over sceptical chief executives and councillors right across the country.

The Future of Arts Policy

I have often commented about how fortunate we are in this country to have some of the most inspiring arts leaders and performers in the world.  Through our settlement, we have secured funding for our leading arts organisations, free entrance to our national museums, and core funding for our regional museums.

So there is an argument for allowing the arts to get on with it on the basis of their four-year settlement. In terms of who gets what, we’ve already done this. We’ve given the Arts Council their allocation and we trust them to make the right decisions on how best to deploy it. And we trust artists to use that money and do what they do best, create great art that has the greatest impact on the widest audience.

But there are several key areas where we have decided to intervene, in order to make a long-term difference.


In December last year, we announced our ten point strategy for increasing philanthropy across the country. This will focus on greater public recognition, better long term cultivation of donors, more planned giving, harnessing new technologies to boost fundraising and possible tax changes that will make it easier to give to arts institutions.

DCMS and the Arts Council have announced £80 million of new money for a series of match funding schemes over the next five years, beginning in April 2011.

It’s important that that matched fund is targeted and used to help those organisations that find it most difficult to fund-raise - those outside London, those that are smaller, those from arts forms that traditionally find it more difficult to attract philanthropy.  We also want to use that fund to kick-start endowments.

There are two quick points to make here.  First, this is a long-term strategy.  If you’re talking about endowments, you won’t see the fruit of your work for many years.  And secondly, the emphasis we place on philanthropy is emphatically not with a view to replacing core funding.

Leadership and Innovation

The other great opportunity for the arts is in leadership and innovation.  The past decade has seen some enormous leaps in how we think about leadership in our sectors. The consistently amazing support of Dame Vivien Duffield and the work of Hilary Carty and the Cultural Leadership Programme have brought the importance of good leadership to the front of everyone’s minds and have inspired a new generation of exciting, innovative cultural leaders.

But not only do we need to keep thinking about where the next generation of leaders comes from, and the next after that, but we need to think about the other kinds of opportunities that we need to grasp to continue to flourish.

The rapid changes in technology provide just such an opportunity.  It is vital that arts organisations take advantage of new technology, as a new way to engage with audiences, and dare I say it, even make money. 

Through technology, arts organisations can really begin to understand where their audiences come from, who they are failing to reach, to push out content, to become broadcasters and content providers.
Michael Kaiser from the Kennedy Center wrote a piece last week for the Huffington Post about some of the themes I have talked about.  In seven simple points he nails exactly why technology has, and will continue to revolutionise the way we go about our lives and what that means for artists and for audiences.

As he stated: “…to most arts leaders I meet, new technologies are viewed as a threat. They are perceived as competitors for our audiences’ time and attention rather than our biggest allies. Arts organizations have been slow to exploit the power of new technology and cling to older, more expensive techniques that are not as effective.  We are clearly doing something wrong. We must find ways to embrace the new technologies. We need to apply the creativity we bring to our stages and galleries to the use of these new tools. The business world, entertainment industry and sports world are all doing so. If we don’t make a committed effort, we will fall hopelessly behind and the arts will lose their place in our society.”

I couldn’t agree more.  Far be it for me to accuse the arts world of being conservative, but there are clearly opportunities to be had here. 

That’s why I’m delighted that the Arts Council and NESTA are establishing a new joint fund to support all types of innovation right across the creative and cultural sector.

The new programme will take the people with the most innovative ideas on leadership, business models, technology, content creation, fundraising and audience development, from right the way across the creative industries, providing seed funding for some of the best and help them share their learning. It will also inform a much wider programme of digital innovation that the Arts Council plan to launch in the spring.

The Arts Council has also announced its partnership with the BBC, working with the BBC Academy with its media and digital experience to support the development of the arts sector’s media production skills.

The partnerships with NESTA and the BBC show where the Arts Council, through a network of new partnerships, can add even greater value for the sector. I want the Arts Council to be an organisation that is a source of advice and expertise for everyone who works or participates in the arts - not just for the organisations it funds, but right the way across the creative ecology.

I want the Arts Council to work with other organisations as well - why not the Technology Strategy Board, the BFI and Creative England? I also want to see them learn from the huge number of other creative organisations who need no encouragement in developing innovative partnerships across the creative industries, but also to help those who lack the resources, the knowledge or the guidance to do the same and who are trapped in what often still looks like a landscape of individual silos.

The work the Arts Council is doing with the BBC, with NESTA and with others is designed to address this, and marks the start of a new focus from government on innovation in the arts.

Cultural Education

As well as developing new technologies and our capacity to innovate, we also need to develop the audiences of the future.

Earlier this week Darren Henley published his review of music education.  I’m delighted that as a result we have secured funding for music education in schools, with £82.5m committed next year.  He made a number of key recommendations which will strengthen music education for the future and we will be setting out our full response to these in a National Plan for Music Education later in the year.

I think the strength of the policy that the Plan will address is that it  is more than just about the money. It is the desire to bring rigour and accountability to public investment- a determination to join up random initiatives to create a coherent whole, and not to accept second best.

So it should be with cultural education.  We have therefore asked Darren to carry out a second review to look at the best way of ensuring that our children have access to a solid cultural education, bringing together the wide range of opportunities available in the arts, heritage, film and museums.
I hope that you will all engage in the debate about how best to support cultural education and support him in this important work.


Our strategy for the arts is very simple.  We want to help all the arts - those that receive subsidy, those that are purely commercial, those that are voluntary and amateur.

We aim to do this

  • By securing core funding for the arts, as we have done;
  • By expanding the funding base for the arts;
  • By reinvigorating philanthropy;
  • By focusing on how best to support innovation, whether that’s technological, leadership, artistic or business innovation;
  • By encouraging new alliances between the Arts Council and other bodies across the creative industries;
  • By helping artists and creative organisations do the same, whether that’s by brokering relationships or sharing expertise;
  • And by supporting high quality music and cultural education in schools.

I think the next few years provide huge opportunities for the arts, and Government’s role is to support you in taking advantage of them. I’m looking forward to a discussion about how best we can do that.