A vision for the arts
It is my passionate belief, that there is a duty on any civilized government to nurture and support artistic and creative activity, and to put in place the conditions in which the arts can thrive. In doing so, I want to set out four cardinal principles against which that commitment is given.
The first- and perhaps the most important - is that the arts are for everyone. Things of quality must be available to the many, not just to the few. Cultural activity is not some élitist exercise that takes place in reverential temples. The opportunity to create and to enjoy must be fostered for all. Enjoyment of the arts - be it of Jarvis Cocker or of Jessye Norman, or Anthony Gormley or Anthony Hopkins - crosses all social and geographical boundaries. The arts fire the imagination and inspire the intelligence; there can be no artificial barriers erected to prevent or discourage access to those experiences.
Take an obvious and current example: the availability of world-class opera at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. I believe strongly that London needs a first-rank, globally recognized venue for opera. I think it is right for us to ensure that public support is available to it. But I want to see better access for the ordinary people of Britain in return for that support. That is why the commitments already given, for some cheaper seats and for more television broadcasting, are welcome. Let us see how we can build on those.
I have been impressedby the way in which some of the Lottery awards have recently been moving in this direction. The Arts for Everyone programme has now begun to put small-scale grants in place at community and neighbourhood level, fostering local artistic activity in a way that has a real impact on people's lives. I welcome this enormously, and wish to give every encouragement to the Arts Council - and to the other distributing bodies - to continue their emphasis on grass-roots projects and local schemes. The Lottery, after all, is the people's money. More of it should go to where the people are.
This brings me to my second major theme. It is a related and important point. I spoke earlier about ensuring that the arts were not simply associated with activity in special- sometimes intimidating - temples. Of course there is a bit of magic to be preserved, but not to the exclusion of the enjoyment of creative flair in the most accessible settings. In short, I want to see the arts becoming much more a part of our everyday lives. You should not need always to make the conscious decision to step across a special threshold in order to experience cultural activity. Art, and good-quality design, and architecture that arrests and pleases, and cultural enrichment should be part and parcel of everything we do and everywhere we go. I want to encourage cultural activity to come to the people, rather than always expecting the people to go to the activity.
Think, for example, of the way in which Northern Arts turned a number of carriages on the Gateshead Metro into travelling art galleries. You would not know when it was going to happen, but from time to time, on your journey to work or to the shops, you would step into a carriage that had been transformed. Think also of the wonderful work that Hospital Arts in Manchester has for years been doing, bringing artistic pleasure to patients in local hospitals.
Let us try, over the coming years, to put more energy and thought into how we can transform our public spaces, our street architecture, and our creative activity. Let us consider public-art projects- not ones that dump an unwanted sculpture in the middle of a much-loved high street, but ones that involve local communities in creating fine spaces. And let us consider bringing live art and contemporary painting and sculpture to some of those places we have to be in or at - the office block, the shopping mall, the airport waiting lounge. Would it not be good if we could turn off the Muzak [background music in shops] and have some live music for a change?
My third theme is the enormous economic importance of the creative sectors. As I have said elsewhere, the arts, sport, media and cultural industries together amount to some £50 billion of economic activity each year. Some 500,000 people are employed in the arts sector alone. The arts represent a massive boost to local economies: when the new Tate Gallery opened in St. Ives, the levels of economic activity in the town rose by 25 per cent almost overnight. Cultural activity, therefore, has an important contribution to make in working towards our goal of high and sustainable levels of employment. This is why I am particularly anxious for the cultural sector to play a full part in our Welfare to Work programme, helping young people in particular to come off benefit and into work or high-quality training.
The fourth and final theme I would put in place is simply this: we need to ensure that the arts and creativity are made an integral part of our education service, above all for young people, but throughout the whole of life as well. Our education needs to teach us to reason and to question and to analyse, but it needs to teach us to wonder too. And the arts are central to this.
For any of you who have never done so, I recommend a trip to the Micro Gallery computers in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery. There you will see young people- and those young at heart too - sitting in fascination, gripped by what they are seeing on the screen in front of them. Here is the most important thing of all. Having chased the digital image round the screen for a while, they then want to go and see the real thing. And their experience of it has been enormously enriched by what they have just learned.
That, I believe, is art in education at its best. It is why I want to see a digital archiveemerging in this country, taking the best of all the great national collections we have, putting it into onscreen form, and then making it available free to every school and every public library in the country.
I have tried to set out tonight some of the vision I have of how public policy on the arts can develop in the years ahead. The arts for everyone; part of everyday life; economically vital for the nation; and part and parcel of our education system. These are bold objectives. But let us never forget that the primary joy of art is the value it has, of and for itself.
From "A vision for the arts" by Chris Smith, Creative Britain, London: Faber and Faber, 1998, pp. 43-46.