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Cuts: Mayor Tells Westminster, Don't Fail Arts

London mayor Boris Johnson seems to be singing from a different hymn sheet than his Conservative colleagues in Westminster’s Coalition. Today he urged both national and local government not to turn away from the arts, particularly in the lead up to 2012’s Cultural Olympiad, the largest cultural celebration ever planned around the modern Olympic and Paralympic games, when London will be the focus of the world.

Critically, he warned ministers that they can’t simply sit back and expect corporate and individual philanthropy to plug public funding shortfalls, including the 30% cut DCMS passed on last month to Arts Council England (ACE) and the further 7% cuts to local authority budgets, as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review.

Speaking today at the launch of his new Cultural Strategy for London, which includes a centralised online Culture Diary for essential city planning and promotion activities in 2012, Boris Johnson said: “The history of London shows that investment in ideas pays off in the long-term, not just for the city, or the country, but the entire world. This investment comes from a mixture of private and public sources, and we need both to continue. We should never be in a position where Londoners fear that it is too costly to have creative ideas. It is these ideas that bring prosperity, and this is not a time to be lowering our ambitions.

“London’s arts and cultural organisations already do a great job at fundraising, but they can’t be expected to defy the laws of economic gravity in a prolonged downturn and in the face of necessary austerity measures. Creative thinking and innovation is vitally important to the health and wealth of this great city, and that is exactly why I am advocating through my Cultural Strategy that continued support and investment in the creative economy is crucial to sustaining the wellbeing of London and the nation.”

According to City Hall figures, London’s creative economy combined – which includes the expanse of Theatreland – attracts 15 million annual visitors to the city and generates £18 billion a year, representing “vital revenues that the capital and the country cannot afford to lose”.

Data released in September by tourism agency Visit Britain indicated that theatre alone drew 2.2 million foreign visitors to London in 2009, who spent £1.9 million on their visits; while of the 30 million overseas visitors to the UK overall, one in ten included a theatre visit as part of their itinerary, generating £2.8 billion for the national economy.

Further, according to the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) figures for 2009, the 52 major London theatres recorded attendances of 14.2 million and box office of more than half a billion pounds (£504,765,690), generating £75 million in VAT receipts for the government.

Despite the cuts administered by his government, Culture minister Ed Vaizey lent his support today to Johnson’s new strategy, saying “I look forward to working with the mayor to support his ambitious cultural goals”. The Mayor’s strategy identifies priorities and concerns, and advocates working in partnership across the cultural sector and London government, providing coordination to address major issues.

Ruth Mackenzie, director of the Cultural Olympiad, commented: “This strategy gives all of us working in culture the leadership we need to be more than the sum of our parts, to keep London a world-beating centre for creativity which offers inspiration, enjoyment and opportunity to everybody in our communities. We are determined that the Cultural Olympiad will play a full part in realising this ambitious vision for London.”


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