Economy and the Arts – do I just not get it ?

Am I getting arts funding all wrong…

What do I teach the next generation of cultural leaders about politicians and government attitudes to arts. It’s a genuine question and I am at a loss of how to tackle it.  They arrive at class enthused by the possibility of the creative arts – with a sense that everything is possible. The international cohort arrive believe the arts must be the pinnacle of achievement for this country, and one which everyone must be rightly proud.  They want to learn best practice and return to excite their own creative worlds in Taiwan, China, Russia, Italy, France, Kenya, Germany, Brazil  and beyond.

But what do I teach them.  Why don’t politicians and UK government advisors seem to get it ?  How do I explain the principal of creative and economic starvation.

I think I must be a bear of little brain.

Here in the UK we have a vibrant industry with massive employment. It in turn generates massive further employment in the service sector, tourism, and the product supply side  – beer and icecream just to name two.

Each year some r&d money is pumped into the businesses across the UK to enable them to develop new product, and some monies are pumped in to enable the business to sell its product more widely (more inclusively) and serve a less accessible public.   The purchases made by these customers cause a flow of VAT back to the revenue which, as I understand it, far exceeds the level of the r&d investment made by local authorities and the government agencies.

So we have major employer, resulting in profitable return on investment to the government – and a business which can grow, expand, export, and generate even more return and employment given a bit of seed corn.

Employment and Profit surely speak to our current government – so why not do more, and make more – rather than do less and make less.

Now there is more good news for the government…

The businesses which have r&d support also train people who will go on to work in the commercial sector where no r&d is needed.   Then the products they create commercially will feed monies back to the revenue “forever” to misquote one set of commercial Cats.     So r&d this year and next will generate multiple returns for 10-20 years, and exports, and films.

And there’s more good news for the government….

This business helps the health and wellbeing of the people of this nation. It brings joy. It tackles challenging issues. It offers cathartic colleactive experiences. It takes young people off the streets to create meaningful creativity. It takes beauty and joy into hospitals.  If people have joy and can explore their problems, then they don’t get sick so much, and so they don’t need doctors or hospitals so much, and they don’t take time off work so much – so the government saves more money and makes more tax revenues.

And there’s more good news for the government….

This business works with young people in schools. It brings history, English literature, science, geography, art, and our culture to life. It makes it easier for young people to pass exams. It gives them confidence to speak out and go for interviews. It gives them a skill in team work and helps to make leaders.  So for the government this tiny r&d is spreading out potential revenue earning for the government for a whole generation and beyond.

Maybe I’d better stop there…I haven’t even talked about the inherent need for, and joy in, exploring our own cultural and creative potential – or even suggested Art for Arts sake.

Now – how do I explain all this to my cohort of highly intelligent international future cultural leaders.  How do I explain death by a thousand cuts. How do I explain that the government just doesn’t like the arts, and that governments and local authorities can’t think about the future of this country and its citizens when they have to focus on the next election.  Is that the answer. Is that what I should be teaching.  What a shame if it is.

I’d welcome your help on this one – especially if you are an MP, civil servant, local councillor or think-tanker.   Do let me know.  Thanks so much


Course Leader – MA Arts Management / Anglia Ruskin University.

Prepared for Whatsonstage June 2013