Breaking the Flow and Adding Value [added 20/5/04]
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. On the day of the announcement of the Turner Prize short list, and the Olympic short list – congratulations, London – it really is a pleasure to welcome you all here, and I’d like to take this opportunity to say something about our ambitions for the arts as I take over the Chair of the Arts Council. There was a cartoon in the New Yorker of the early 1950s, which showed two harassed tourists running up the steps of the Louvre and saying "where’s the Mona Lisa – we’re double parked". If the arts are about anything, they are about attention and focus and concentration – and I hope I can sustain all three for the next ten minutes or so.
I accepted the role of Chairman in December, and started at the beginning of February mainly because I believe – and I’m not embarrassed to say this – that the arts have the power to transform people’s lives. Whether through inspiring young people to believe in themselves, through giving a sense of identity and place – or simply through the emotional impact of a wonderful performance. Participants or audiences. Which is why they are such an important public responsibility. It’s a belief born of 30 years working in the arts and creative industries. William Morris once answered a question about the arts after a lecture in Birmingham: "the arts give us hope". He didn’t mean this in a facile way – but in the sense that the making of things or the doing of things render life worthwhile.
The arts help people to think about things in new ways, and they break the flow – and we really do need to ‘break the flow’ sometimes.
As John Ruskin put it:
"Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts – the book of their deeds, the book of their words and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others – but of the three the only trustworthy one is the last"
The first week in May – a couple of weeks ago – was an extraordinary one for the arts for three reasons. First, there was the press launch of the Secretary of State’s pamphlet ‘Government and the value of culture’, and I was delighted to be there.
I was particularly pleased to see such a direct articulation of the case for government support for culture. Not only as a way delivering other social benefits, such as health, urban regeneration, creative learning, reduction of youth crime, but also as an end in itself, as a way of coping with poverty of aspiration. I certainly haven’t heard the case put quite so clearly – and unequivocally – by a member of the Cabinet before. I guess one would have to go back to Jennie Lee in the mid-1960s – pre-Cabinet days – when I was a university.
Secondly and coincidentally, on the day before, the Institute of Public Policy Research published a collection of articles – called ‘For Art’s Sake’ – with a call to strengthen the evidence for the social impact of the arts – more rigorous evaluation; tougher criteria; "the old art for art’s sake argument is not going to wash". Peter Hewitt, the Arts Council’s Chief Executive contributed an article to this anthology, about new ways of evaluating the arts called ‘the value of evidence and the evidence of value’.
I’m not sure which approach is the most effective at present – but what I am absolutely sure about is that it sets up a false dichotomy – a variant of the old argument about "access VERSUS excellence". The "intrinsic" VERSUS the "instrumental". A sterile debate we must somehow get beyond. One versus the other. Calling it "art for art’s sake" – as the IPPR does – is no help at all.
I believe the two approaches – excellence and access – nourish each other, enhance each other. I don’t know how we can have excellence, without making it accessible to people? Is there art without an audience? Discuss.
Similarly, we know the arts can bring all sorts of social benefits – personal growth, economic development, regeneration. [I’m delighted that my old friend Rod Morgan is here tonight – he’s chairman of the Youth Justice Board and I know we can do business together.] But the arts can bring social benefits only if the art is of high quality – otherwise it delivers nothing at all. Joan Littlewood used to say of Stratford East – if you’re going to open the doors wider, it has to be to art of the highest quality. Otherwise you’re just very patronising. It is quite possible to know exactly how many audiences or viewers or listeners have been delivered per pound of taxpayers’ money – without any understanding whatsoever of the impact the arts have made. It’s also possible to keep pulling a plant out of its pot to see whether it is growing – and then wondering why it isn’t. The arts don’t work like sheep dip.
Now a health warning. You DIDN’T just hear me say that the social impact of the arts is not important.
We are stewards of a lot of public money – from tax-payers and lottery players – nearly half a billion pounds. And so we are absolutely committed to producing a sense of cultural entitlement.
NEITHER did you just hear me say that the Arts Council is going to avoid judgements about what is excellent and what is not. That would be a cop-out.
But to do this properly, we need to rethink the nature of value in the arts. The third thing that happened in the first week of May was that a Picasso painting – ‘Garçon à la Pipe’/Boy with a Pipe – which he made when he was twenty-four years old, was sold for 104 million dollars. The Independent asked various people in the art world to nominate what they would buy with the money. One said an Egon Schiele, another a Giotto, another a Van Dyk – others said a Boucher , a Raphael, a Piero della Francesca. I said I’d spend the money on i) a scheme to send artists into every school in the country to inspire and excite young people; ii) a fund for young artists in the years immediately after leaving college; iii) a new gallery complex in a run-down city centre for art by young people – and if there was any change left over, Bacon’s Screaming Pope of 1952 – "occasionally embodies my state of mind". One of the reasons I said these things was because I’m fed up with the argument about heritage versus contemporary practice. The National Museums document of about a month ago listed the ACE organisations which did comparatively well over the last two years and contrasted these with Museums. I’d like to say – on International Museums Day – that such arguments help no-one; that the arts are a broad spectrum not an excuse for special pleading. Heritage/arts – even together we are a small world.
We need to think about value, and about the arts across the spectrum. On the subject of which, did you know that on The Archers, a mobile cinema has just reached Ambridge and it’s based on the Flix in the Stix or Reels on Wheels project masterminded by Arts Council West Midlands? I bet you didn’t know that.
What about the Arts Council’s role in all this?I see the Arts Council’s role as being here to support the arts community, to serve your interests, and to create the environment in which you can best do the very important work that you do.
Secondly, I want to see the arts taking a much higher profile on the public stage. And here the Arts Council should speak with – not for - the arts sector, in getting the message across. I intend to make sure that we speak clearly in the interests of artists and arts organisations. A campaigning organisation – not just a cashpoint machine with a rather complicated pin number.
And with a Spending Review in full swing across government, we are making a strong case based upon the huge impact we have seen from all the investment of recent years, and especially since the year 2000, and the value which I know the arts can bring to society.
What will be underpinning our case?
First and foremost, there’s the question of value. The value inherent in the arts – the electricity. Tate Modern is a converted power station, so it is an appropriate place to say this.
Secondly entitlement. If the arts have this great power, then surely it follows that the benefits they bring ought to be shared.
Soon after my arrival as Chairman of the Arts Council, the New Statesman asked me to take part in an e-mail duel with Norman Lebrecht, who some of you may know is Arts Editor of the Evening Standard. It was edited by Estelle Morris and it brought home to me how far we must still go to win this argument. Old style Arts Council – "we come bearing gifts"; ministry of taste; "few, but roses" – some people have not really moved on since the 1950s. When the Arts Council was male and pale.
It brought home to me that there are still those who would challenge any kind of social equitability in funding for the arts. Those who complain about "social inclusion" and "equal opportunities" and call them shibboleths.
Well, my mission on this is unambiguous. We’re investing public money, we must never be exclusive, inaccessible, or for "the privileged few". We must extend the franchise.
Nowhere is this more important than for young people, and I speak as an arts educator. In the early stages of our ‘Creative Partnerships’ programme, we have focussed, quite rightly, on the most deprived neighbourhoods. Sixteen areas in Phase 1, nine more in Phase 2, eleven more in Phase 3. And these will always be a priority. We’ve so far reached 375 schools, 128,000 young people and 4,000 teachers with our partners in the education world.
Of course, there can be no cultural entitlement of this kind without the arts organisations to deliver it! Which brings me to my third priority.
The arts organisations themselves. Yourselves. My commitment to you is to make the case for more funding – of course it is – but – more than this – to try and bring stability to the arts economy.
No more ‘stopping and starting’. For everything I’ve said to come true, we must be able to plan coherently, for the long-term, and invest sensibly. In the early and mid 1990s, arts funding reduced by about 120 million in real terms. This has been put right since 1997.
But we must have stability – we must not fall behind again. Stability which can build on a real success story.
Many of you will know that I am returning to the Arts Council having spent 13 years, man and boy, as a member between 1987 and 2000. In some ways, taking on this role feels like coming home. But in more important ways I see an organisation that is very, very different.
Because we are now a single national agency for the arts: an organisation which has offices in ten places – no longer a headquarters plus nine.
It is strategic at the national level, but delivers through a regionalised structure – which should mean less red tape, a system which can be more fleet of foot, with much more clarity – from 115 programmes down to 5 – it should also mean the Arts Council becomes a development agency and incubator.
Two examples of how this new approach and structure can work.
In the last couple of years, £25M has been invested following the Theatre Review.
The theatre is a very important asset in Britain – it’s high on the list for many overseas visitors, and it contributes more than £2.6Bn to the economy. In this context, £25M is not a large figure.
But what a huge difference it has made.
There’s an unprecedented level of new writing, audiences are up, there’s a real buzz – a sense of revitalisation and confidence – around theatres up and down the country. I keep reading reviews which say ‘big casts seem to be back in fashion’. And all because of 25 million pounds, distributed in a genuinely national way.
Second example: our ability in the new system to measure audiences across the piece. This is one for the IPPR.
According to our latest survey, audiences are up across the arts, and rising at a staggering rate – overall an increase of 10% since 2001.
People who haven’t traditionally engaged with the arts are coming through our doors, and artists are working in new places in unprecedented numbers, too. I want to build on the New Audiences programme to make this happen even more.
Another big difference to the Arts Council "as was" is a sharp new focus on diversity. On the back of the Eclipse report about employment of people from ethnic minority communities in the theatre, through the Decibel programme and its excellent showcase last year, we’re taking a hard look at ourselves to see how we can make the most of the rich cultural diversity of British society.
I’m acutely aware how much more there is to do. From programming, to professional development, to cultural leadership, to new formats – indeed to whole new artforms. My commitment is that we shall do all we can, in the arts, to meet the aspirations of our diverse communities. We will no longer be male and pale, I promise you.
Thank you so much for your attention – you obviously aren’t double parked – and I’m glad so many of you could make it tonight. I very much look forward to working together over the next few years with all of you.
They tell me that Lord Kenneth Clarke - in 1963 - was the last Chairman of the Arts Council whose "day job" was running an arts organisation, in his case the National Gallery. It was a different world then – the ACE was responsible for about 30 regularly funded organisations rather than 1,200. But I’m so pleased to be able to bring – I hope – my own professional background in the arts to bear on the work of the Arts Council as well as my commitment to an area of public life that has been both my career and my passion.
No-one puts this better than Christopher Logue in his poem ‘Come to the Edge’, written in the 1990s, about the poet Appolinaire.
"Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It’s too high.
COME TO THE EDGE!
And they came, and he pushed
And they flew . . ."
I believe that things are flying right now, that the arts are at last being recognised for their contribution to national life.
But the most important thing is that we work together.