New culture secretary Sajid Javid pinned his colours squarely to the mast of "free-market capitalism" and the need for bigger private investment in the arts during a major speech in Bristol today.
Speaking in St George's in Bristol under the banner 'Culture For All', he opened:
"As we're in a church I'm going to start by making a confession. My name's Sajid Javid. And I used to be a banker. No point denying it... I'm afraid there's more. I'm a firm believer in the benefits of free-market capitalism. And the rumours are true. On the wall of my office there is picture of the great Baroness Thatcher."
Javid, who has faced criticism from some in the arts due to his lack of experience in the sector, went on:
"Some say this all means I'm unqualified to be in charge at DCMS. That building a career in finance means I'm insufficiently artistic. That you can only understand and appreciate culture if you spent your formative years in the stalls of the Royal Opera House. But I don't agree with them. I believe my background, my experience and the life that brought me here have given me exactly the qualities that are required to carry out my job."
He said that, culturally speaking, people in Britain "punch well above our weight", boasting "the most talented people on the planet working in creation, curation and conservation".
Speaking about the need for more career support for people from working class backgrounds in the arts, he drew attention to the fact he grew up in Bristol, as the son of a bus driver.
"For a bus driver's son in that world, the idea of popping along to the Donmar Warehouse - or even the Bristol Old Vic - to take in a cutting-edge new production was simply not on the agenda," he said, adding that his cultural reference points were Star Trek and U2, rather than Virginia Woolf.
On the issue of funding, he echoed his predecessor Maria Miller's call for greater philanthropy:
"I'll be working with the sector to help smaller organisations become active fundraisers, particularly targeting those who are not currently giving to the arts. I'll be encouraging philanthropists to support culture right across the UK. I'll be in touch with my former colleagues at the Treasury so the tax breaks designed to encourage philanthropy are well-publicised and widely understood. And I'll make sure the new tax credits for theatre really deliver for the sector."
And he disputed reports that Michael Gove has driven American authors off the curriculum:
"...having seen an audience full of teenagers utterly gripped by The Young Vic's production of A View From The Bridge, I'm more than happy to confirm that Arthur Miller has not been banned from the nation's classrooms. Harper Lee's Mockingbird has not been killed. John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath have not been squashed. Britain leads the world in culture and creativity, and in recent weeks I've seen evidence of that right on my doorstep."
His reiteration of his admiration for Margaret Thatcher, who he said "showed that it's possible to rise from humble beginnings and reach the top," will cause alarm to some considering the late Prime Minister's stringent approach to arts funding.
The Arts Council has faced significant reduction in funding as part of the coalition government's wider austerity measures, and is preparing to review funding of all NPO (national portfolio organisations) later this year. But Javid's vocal support for the regions today will encourage some to hope that the distribution of funding will not be further squeezed on his watch.
Citing the Bristol Old Vic's recent production of A Midsummer Night's Dream as an example, he said: "It's simply not true that all of our world-beating, money-making cultural institutions are based in the capital... It's about making sure that everyone gets access to great culture wherever they are."
Read Sajid Javid's full speech here
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