London was crowned the world’s cultural leader at a press conference held at City Hall today (11 March 2008) by Mayor Ken Livingstone. According to London – A Cultural Audit, the first quantitative comparison of London’s cultural life in comparison with four other major world cities - New York, Paris, Tokyo and Shanghai - the capital leads the way internationally as a centre for theatre, museums, concert halls and galleries.

In the report - commissioned by the London Development Agency, with input from Greater London Authority and the Mayor’s Office - Theatreland was deemed a major contributor to cultural success, with 55 major theatres in London compared to New York’s 39 and Shanghai’s 19.

Livingstone emphasised that London’s cultural scene was as much an economic as a social success story. “Nobody will visit London to see its bankers,” the mayor said today. “With the passage of history, what cities are remembered for is their culture.” In addition to attracting tourists, the combine creative industries provide jobs for 12 percent of Londoners (554,000 people – according to 2005 figures), adding over £20 billion to the economy.

Coinciding with publication of today’s report, Livingstone announced a new £1.4 million fund for organisations to develop new cultural projects across the capital. The fund will be managed by the London Development Agency in partnership with the Arts Council England, which last month cut off funding to 185 arts organisations after a bungled and widely denounced consultation process (See News, 1 Feb 2008).

TO SCROLL THROUGH ALL OF TODAY’S CITY HALL PRESS CONFERENCE PHOTOS,
JUST CLICK ON THE "NEXT >" LINKS BELOW THE FOLLOWING FRAME.
(PHOTOS BY DAN WOOLLER FOR WHATSONSTAGE.COM)

At today’s press event, the mayor was joined by guest speakers Kevin Spacey, artistic director of the Old Vic, Bonnie Greer, author of musical Marilyn and Ella, currently running at Stratford East, and Chris Smith, Chair of the London Cultural Consortium. Spacey celebrated the announcement, saying “this report highlights what most of us who work in the arts already know”.

When asked what she would do with the money if she was given funding, Bonnie Greer declared she would like to establish a programme to encourage young directors, particularly black directors. The Mayor’s office says it is projects of this sort that will be the focus for funding, with a strong emphasis on cultural projects that offer opportunities to people who may not have previously been engaged in the arts. Spacey said he would use funding for his proposed renovation of the Old Vic theatre building.

Livingstone said: “At a time when funding in the cultural sector is increasingly competitive, support is needed for smaller artistic organisations that need help to bring their work to life and reach out to different communities across the capital”.

Music venues received particular attention in today’s report, with a specific initiative to protect small to medium-sized venues from the threat of closure. 2007 saw the closure of the Hammersmith Palais as well as threats to Camden’s Electric Ballroom and the London Astoria. The Mayor’s office fears that these closures not only threaten the music industry but also local business and the tourist industry. The report announced a series of possible interventions to prevent the closure of further venues.

- by Kate Jackson