Tuesday, 30 April 2013

What Maria Miller Should Have Said

There's been some good coverage of the Culture Secretary's recent speech.  I particularly liked this piece by Alex Massie.  A reader responded to my last post by challenging me to explain what a cabinet minister could have said, given the constraints of her position.  It's a fair challenge, so I've had a go at re-writing the speech.

I've tried to be consistent with the policy and ideology of the current British government whilst making a robust case for the intrinsic value of the arts.  I've also suggested where the inevitable cuts could be made.  These are not my views (at least not entirely) In a previous post I argued contra-Miller that the arts don't necessarily promote economic growth, so focusing on that argument is self-destructive.  This post shows how she could have made a different and better case for her department.  

I don't think that different points on the political spectrum are inherently more cultured or more philistine.  Culture is truly universal, and it can be defended from almost any ideological position - if they want to.  

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

Firstly thank you to Neil MacGregor for hosting us here today and thank you all for joining me for today's speech.

It's fitting that we meet here today in what was the world's first national public museum.  It was opened as a venue for 'the studious and the curious' and it allows people to consider their place in the world.  It continues to play that role; and many more besides.  Over 28,000 people a day have been coming through the doors.  The British Museum's ongoing popularity and success confirms my belief that culture is at the very heart of what it means to be human.  Culture educates and enriches, and it's great fun!

This museum is the UK's most popular tourist attraction.  It is little wonder that citizens from all around the globe are drawn to this collection of the world for the world, which tells such a compelling story of human civilization.  

We get so much from culture.  We get a sense of history and tradition, an appreciation of craftsmanship and artistry.  We get inspiration from the beauty and the genius of great art.  And we get a sense of wonder as we critically engage with the highest peaks of human civilization.  Britain has long been a great cultural power.  But although Shakespeare, Turner and Elgar have special meaning for us, they resonate globally as expressions of universal human experience.

It's a high mark of civilization when culture plays a fundamental role in society, as it does in Britain today.  Britain is fortunate to be blessed with so many great museums and galleries, concert halls and theatres.  They enrich our society and draw visitors from around the world.  Our cultural heritage is a vital part of our national narrative, giving us all an opportunity to experience history at first hand. It is also a living resource that is drawn upon by new generations of artists and designers, as well as millions of ordinary people who derive pleasure and inspiration from culture.  

This blessing brings with it responsibility.  Responsibility for preserving our heritage.  Responsibility for displaying it and making it available to the widest possible audience.  And responsibility for nurturing the arts today.  Because culture is a living thing, and we have a responsibility to the future Shakespeares, Turners and Elgars.  

Significant funding is available.  After the last election the government increased the share of arts funding received from the National Lottery.  This means that the Arts Council is now projected to receive £262 million of Lottery funding in 2015.  That's over £100 million more than it received each year before the Government took office in May 2010.

As a result nearly £3 billion will go to the arts sector over the lifetime of this Parliament: £1 billion in Lottery funding combined with almost £2 billion from general taxation.  

The government is committed to a mixed economy model where targeted public funding will stimulate money from other sources, whether that is philanthropy or commercially generated.  We are committed to that model because it helps organisations maximise their income, without becoming over-reliant on one funding stream over another.  As in so many other areas, I believe we tread a happy middle path between the American model, based on benefactor-funding, and the European approach, based on state subsidy.  Our system encourages risk-taking, but discourages complacency.  And I think it should be warmly celebrated.

You have heard a great deal from the Government on philanthropy over the last three years and with good reason.  We should all be grateful for the profound generosity of those donors who already contribute almost £700 million to the arts each year.

And the Government is doing its bit by introducing a reduced rate of inheritance tax for legacy giving.  We have further promoted philanthropy by listening to our museums and introducing the cultural gifts scheme; by simplifying gift aid; by ensuring greater recognition is given to philanthropists; and by developing the Catalyst scheme, which I know many of you in this room are actively participating in.  £110 million has already been earmarked for arts and heritage organisations, which will unlock at least as much again from private donors.  

I know there are reservations about this focus on philanthropy across the sector, and probably in the room today, so let me reassure you here and now that no one considers philanthropy a panacea, a silver bullet or a magic wand.  It is not seen as a substitute for government support, but it is complementary.

I therefore regard it as a crucial part of a longer-term strategy for arts funding.  The cultural sector is subject to the remorseless and universal laws of double-entry bookkeeping.  Successful organisations must combine creativity with commercial nous; entrepreneurial endeavour can support cultural excellence.  

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.  You will all have seen the reported headline figures of the savings that will need to be made as part of the forthcoming Spending Review.

Some in the sector say that arts funding should be treated as a special case.  They argue that Government support for the arts is less than 1% of total government spending, and that's a drop in the ocean.  Culture cannot be seen in isolation at a time of unprecedented economic challenge.  Everyone has to play a part in our efforts to reduce the deficit and my department is no exception.  

John Wanamaker said, "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted.  Trouble is I don't know which half."  We can't know in advance what will succeed and what will fail.  We have to take risks.  We have to recognise that sometimes even great artistic breakthroughs aren't great financial successes.  That's why government needs to fund the arts.  We recognise that need and we're committed to supporting the arts.  

But let's remember that the great artists of the past succeeded without government grants.  Shakespeare wrote his plays without an Arts Council grant.  Walter Scott was driven to write most intensely when he lost his money in a failed publishing venture.  Government funding is not a precondition for creativity, and this government recognises the value of individual entrepreneurship.  Artistic effort is better directed towards creating art rather than writing grant applications.  And public bodies are not infallible arbiters of artistic potential.

Our priority is artistic excellence.  It is irresponsible to spend taxpayers' money on the second-rate, to fund cronies or to provide welfare for the artistically inclined.  We will resist salami-slicing, and take difficult decisions about where funding will have the greatest effect.  Whilst individual artists and writers should be expected to make their own way rather than live off government grants, we recognise the need to fund collective enterprises like orchestras and theatres and museums that cannot prosper from ticket sales alone.

Government funding will also be focused on ensuring wide access to culture.  That means ensuring that our great museums are able to offer free admission without compromising on their curatorial responsibilities.  It means ensuring that the regions can also experience great theatre and art and music.  And it means that the arts can take risks on new productions where box office success is uncertain.  

I ask you to continue your efforts to ensure that our traditions of cultural excellence are maintained.  For my part, I will continue to fight our corner in Cabinet.  

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