I'm absolutely delighted to welcome the Huffington Post's new culture section, which will be a fantastic space to talk about the UK's amazing arts scene.
And amazing it is. Even in difficult economic times the arts in this country continue to inspire and startle. As a government, we are determined to ensure our arts sector has the financial stability to continue to deliver that fantastic creativity.
Our programme to increase the amount of private support for the arts - on top of generous public sector funding - is really taking shape. As the end of 2011 approaches, it feels timely to reflect on the highlights of the last 12 months.
Almost one year ago I launched a 10-point action plan designed to drive up private giving to arts and heritage organisations, and create a brand new generation of cultural philanthropists.
This is never going to be something that can be delivered overnight however, it is a long-term plan to gradually shift our culture so that giving becomes the norm, not the exception.
What we can do more quickly is to put in place the building blocks for that behavioural change, making it easier and more attractive for both individual donors and businesses to make donations to the institutions they cherish - and by doing so make real headway in transforming the landscape for giving.
If you need any proof of the government's commitment to the philanthropy agenda, just look at the Chancellor's Autumn Statement.
Despite the tough international economic conditions, George Osborne has given his backing to a new Cultural Gifts Scheme, which will allow outstanding works of art or significant historical objects to be gifted to the nation in return for a reduction in income or corporation tax.
The total budget for this and the hugely successful acceptance in lieu scheme will be £30 million each year, a £10 million boost which will mean more treasures going direct to museums and galleries across the country.
Our culture is already richer through this innovative scheme - great acquisitions including Titian's Venus Anadyomene, Michelangelo's The Dream and Picasso's Weeping Woman grace the walls of British galleries thanks to acceptance in lieu. The National Trust has acquired numerous great properties like the magnificent Penrhyn Castle, Hardwick Hall and Shugborough, all gifted in lieu of inheritance tax. So I am very excited about the potential for the whole nation to benefit from even more pre-eminent works of art now that the Chancellor has made it possible for lifetime giving to be treated in the same way.
I have also been heartened by the leadership shown by the private sector to encourage giving.
The Legacy10 campaign, which is encouraging people to leave 10% of their estate to charity, is capitalising on the inheritance tax break that will come in to force in April next year. Despite the recession, last year, 58% of UK adults gave money to charity - an increase on the previous year. But surprisingly, only 7% of people currently leave anything to charity in their wills.
If we can encourage more people to create legacies, either by a simple reminder or by tax incentives, it will lead to increased numbers of us recognising organisations that have meant something to us during our lifetimes.
I don't ever again want to see our arts bodies destabilised in the way they were when the reality of the credit crunch hit. So a £55 million endowment scheme I launched in July is designed to help give arts and heritage organisations long-term financial security through building strong endowments. The first grants - which we expect to trigger a further £130 million in private sector investment - will be awarded in spring next year.
We've taken many other small but significant steps to drive up philanthropy for arts and cultural organisations. Michael Kaiser, the 'turnaround king' who brought financial security to the Royal Opera House, Kansas City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre among others, shared his expertise with regional arts fundraisers in a series of masterclasses. I hope leading UK fundraisers will also mentor their counterparts to build a stronger culture of asking as well as giving.
Government reformed Gift Aid to make it easier for charities to benefit. And we've said thank you to donors, because we really do appreciate the generosity of those who give vital support to the arts.
Overall, I think we've made real and exciting progress.
To be absolutely clear - this is in no way a substitute for public support for the arts. I'll keep repeating my firm belief that the best way to secure our place as a global star on the cultural scene is through a healthy mix of public and private funding.
As we look forward to 2012, when the eyes of the world are upon London and the UK, I am excited not just about the sporting extravaganza that is the Olympic Games, but the feast of spectacular culture that will go alongside it. This really will cement the country's reputation for generating and celebrating amazing arts and culture, right around the world.
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