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Minister argues that culture should be at the heart of recovery

Maria Miller MPCulture should be at the heart of efforts to revive the UK economy, according to Culture Secretary Maria Miller, whose first keynote speech on the arts, ‘Testing times: Fighting culture’s corner in an age of austerity’, has revealed her views on the unique characteristics of cultural activity. These, she says, go beyond delivering social benefits and relate to the country’s ability to develop a sense of community and build international relationships, thereby attracting visitors and cultivating “the creativity which underpins our wider industrial efforts”.

Culture, she said, is “the standard bearer for our efforts to engage in cultural diplomacy, to develop soft power, and to compete, as a nation, in both trade and investment.” On this basis, Government investment in culture could be justified, even in “testing economic times”, said Miller, who claims to approve of the “happy middle path between the American model, based on benefactor-funding, and the European approach, based on state subsidy” – a model which she feels “encourages risk-taking, but discourages complacency.”

Arguing that “culture does not simply have a role to play in bringing about a return to growth… rather, it should be central to these efforts”, she qualified her remarks by saying that it would be “neither appealing nor sensible” for artistic endeavour “to be strained to bring in turnover and profit”. But she went on to say that a “proper grasp of the potential economic impact of culture would serve us all well”, and insisted “we must look to develop the commercial opportunities that exist within the cultural sector… though cultural organisations might be hubs of creative flair at their heart, they are also businesses – which must combine creativity with commercial nous. The two are not mutually exclusive: entrepreneurial endeavour doesn’t come at the price of cultural excellence.” Miller is currently preparing a case for arts funding in the run up to the Spending Review announcements on 26 June, and in her speech asked arts professionals “ to help me reframe the argument: to hammer home the value of culture to our economy.”

A transcript of the speech is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/testing-times-fighting-cultures-corner-in-an-age-of-austerity

Responding to the speech, Arts Council England Chair Sir Peter Bazalgette agreed that “we do need to make the economic case” and has given a cautious welcome to Miller’s acknowledgment that public funding of arts and culture provides the seed corn investment that helps attract private money. Shadow Culture Secretary Harriet Harman said: “‘If Maria Miller is going to try to convert her Chancellor and Treasury colleagues to the economic value of the arts and creative industries to jobs and growth, she will have our strong backing. Arts are suffering under this government’s cuts at local as well as central government level and the government must think again.”

(Source: Arts Professional)