Theatre News

Maria Miller tells culture sector to highlight ‘economic benefits’ in first keynote speech

Culture secretary Maria Miller has delivered her first keynote speech on the arts, asking for the sector to highlight its “economic benefits” and play a “central” role in returning the economy to growth.

Speaking this morning at the British Museum, Miller asked the assembled arts executives to help her “hammer home the value of culture to our economy”.

Her speech comes amid ongoing funding cuts to the arts as part of the government’s austerity measures, with the next spending review due in June.

Since being appointed in October, succeeding Jeremy Hunt, Miller has faced criticism from leading arts figures including Nicholas Hytner and Danny Boyle regarding the policy and her level of interaction with the arts world – claims she dismissed as “close to pure fiction”.

Today she emphasised her argument that the culture sector must make an economic case for public funding, saying “the government wants participants – not bystanders”.

She added: “I know this will not be to everyone’s taste – many in the arts simply want money and silence from Government – but in an age of austerity, when times are tough and money is tight, our focus must be on culture’s economic impact.”

‘Mixed economy model’

Harriet Harman, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, responded to Miller’s speech by saying that the arts are “about much more than the economy”.

“They’re about a sense of identity, of community and the potential of each and every individual,” she added.

Harman’s comments echo those of Nicholas Hytner at the launch of the National Theatre’s 2013 season, when he said the arts need to begin making the case for funding based on “the kind of society we want to live in”.

But Miller stuck to her guns this morning, confirming that the government will pursue “a mixed economy model”, in which “targeted public funding will stimulate money from other sources”. She cited the National’s hit production of War Horse as a “perfect example of a risky venture supported by public funding and creative expertise”.

She also said today that culture can be “central” to efforts to return the UK economy to growth. “That is not to say that every sinew of effort and artistic endeavour needs to be strained to bring in turnover and profit – that is neither appealing nor sensible”, she added. “But a proper grasp of the potential economic impact of culture would serve us all well.”

In an effort to increase the level of philanthropic giving in the arts the DCMS has commissioned three reports into how the sector can better attract private money.

Chair of Arts Council England Sir Peter Bazalgette responded to the speech by agreeing “we do need to make the economic case”, cautioning: “While doing so, we won’t forget that it is not all about money.”

Bazalgette added: “Every civilised society in man’s history has felt the need to express and enjoy itself through music, through performance, storytelling or visual works of art. We are no different and the other vital return on the government’s investment is that it enables this need to be met for many, not for the few.”