Maria – the Mill(er)stone Around Our Necks.

In Classical Music on April 25, 2013 at 6:39 pm

I reckon that being the Secretary of State for Culture must be one of the best jobs in Government.

Reading Maria Miller’s most recent speech, culture is “at the very heart of what it means to be human”.

Culture not only educates and entertains, challenges and amuses but it also “enriches”.

It’s a “high mark” of civilization if culture has a ‘fundamental role’ in society; it underpins national identity.

The arts has intrinsic value and social benefits that are “numerous and beyond doubt”.

So clearly Maria Miller has the “best job in Government”.

So why is she so hell bent on destroying arts and culture in the UK?

Reading her speech I was reminded – rather chillingly – of Murdoch Junior’s speech given in Edinburgh some years back. She might have said that not “every sinew of effort and artistic endeavour needs to be strained to bring in turnover and profit” but she didn’t really mean it.

Profit – and lots of it – was what she was asking the artistic community to turn their hand to.

And not necessarily profit that would be returned to the artistic community to reinvest.

No. Not at all.

I have no problem with the fact that the arts needs to find both new ways to increase its revenue streams as well find new audiences. And some organisations are accepting that reality more readily that others. Take the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment for example with their new audience initiatives such as Night Shift and The Works. Some opera houses – but not English National Opera sadly – and theatres are embracing the potential of cinema. And all artistic organisations are not only hunting out new donors but are making cuts to the bone.

The mixed funding ecology of the UK is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. It is a shame that we can’t have the overt government funding that some of our Northern European neighbours currently enjoy. And I say ‘currently’ as there are signs that this largesse is itself being targetted.

And by the same token I do not think that cultural institutions in the UK will ever be able to survive on the US model.

Philanthropy is a great principle. But it exists in reduced – almost straitened – circumstances on these shores. Not because of the current economic climate – although that hasn’t not helped – but because on the whole we are not a generously philanthropic nation.

Additionally, the chase for funding and new audiences spurs greater creativity and risk taking. It can lead to works of incredible artistic merit and impact.

But public funding means that not every artistic endeavour has to be successful. Failure is not only possible but – if we are honest about it – acceptable. Because every failure leads to lessons learned.

Take away public funding and you reduce the appetite for risk.

Without risk, creativity stagnates and ideas don’t flourish.

Mediocre becomes acceptable. Complacency the norm. It becomes more about “bums on seats” than about artistic and creative value.

A society were battery-farm institutions churn out culture like cheap fodder.

Suddenly it isn’t educating, challenging or amusing. It ceases to underpin national identity and applies a veneer of ‘cultural beige’.

And – in Maria Miller’s own words – the turnover and profit that it should be generating either directly – or indirectly through tourism for example – is diminished further.

And so the spiral continues. Funding is reduced further and further until ultimately culture isn’t so much stifled as snuffed out.

Funding for the arts might be less than one per cent but artistic institutions aren’t asking for the equivalent of Trident or a new rail system across the country. At best they are asking for a slight increase. At worst, for minimal cuts across the board.

Why is that so bad? The arts – as Miller points out – contributes beyond its own boundaries in a way that isn’t necessarily true of other sectors.

So the Secretary of State is right to say that it is time to hammer home the value of culture to the economy. Yet what she needs to realize is that the value of culture isn’t simply in pounds, shillings and pence.

And that’s why it is worth investing in properly.

  1. […] Bar the ridiculous and demeaning comments by the Telegraph’s Arts Editor Sarah Crompton and Maria Miller’s naïve “valuation” of culture in the UK, Putin’s homophobic savagery fell on the deaf ears of […]

  2. […] while back Maria Miller insisted that the Creative Industries make a greater revenue contribution. Perhaps the creative […]

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