THE BLOG

Reflections on Spending Review

12/01/2016 18:01 GMT | Updated 12/01/2017 10:12 GMT

For many across the arts and culture sector, the impact of the Spending Review will still be sinking in. For art and culture to receive a financial boost at a time when public spending is so constrained shows that we have a Chancellor who understands what art and culture brings to us all, personally and collectively.

Cuts to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport would, George Osborne said, be a false economy: public investment of £1bn returns some £250billion. As he put it: "One of the best investments we can make as a nation is in our extraordinary arts, museums, heritage, media and sport".

How did this settlement come about? First, whatever your political persuasion, this is a government that in the context of austerity, has continued to try and find ways to support the arts. Yes, there were deep cuts in the first few years, but a greater share of Lottery proceeds. And this settlement follows on from other measures including tax breaks for theatres and orchestras, and support for music for children and young people.

Secondly, the Arts Council worked hard to have a dialogue with this administration - we have been in discussion with them on a regular, weekly and even hourly basis, running through various scenarios around funding. Of course, part of the conversation means getting your perspective across - and establishing the environment and consensus in which the conversation is more likely to have a successful outcome.

We realised early on that any conversation about arts funding has to overcome the presumption that art is a luxury, the icing on the cake. The contrary is true: art and culture is the stuff with which prosperous and healthy societies are built, but it is so integrated our lives that it takes an effort to stand back and see its benefits.

Which brings me to the third important factor. Three years ago, the Arts Council began developing what I call the "holistic case for public investment in art and culture." Holistic in this context means 'all embracing'. It began as a simple diagram, showing how the various aspects of artistic and cultural value- the intrinsic, the education, social and economic - interact with our lives, from cradle to grave, and how they are a part of the narrative of our communities, and our nation.

The holistic case has formed the backbone of the conversation we've led about public investment in the arts. We worked on the evidence base to support these arguments, gathering data and commissioning new research where we saw a gap. We planned how we would deliver this message in a sustained way, in conversations, in speeches, and in articles.

The fourth factor has been the contribution of the sector as a whole. They have embraced this message and worked together brilliantly, motivating stakeholders across their communities and Parliament, and making sure that they have told the right stories, putting a human face on the facts and figures.

But it's not only the message, but also the messenger that matters, and in this way we've been fortunate to see the emergence of a generation of articulate and dynamic arts leaders. And this is the fifth factor I'd identify - great new leadership in the arts, that's promoted through such enterprising organisations as What Next, the Creative Industries Federation and the No Boundaries conference, organisations where people challenge received ways of doing things.

In the past, there have been many campaigns for the arts that have begun with a sense of entitlement. Good for those who have that strength of conviction in the face of so many other claims across social welfare. I believe that if you are arguing that the arts should keep their share of the pot while other frontline services are cut, you should presume nothing. You must make the case, just as other departments must.

And it has worked. So far, so good. But we are not out of the woods yet. Local authorities remain the largest investors in arts and culture, and the Arts Council's most important funding partners: they face hard choices over the next few years. Many are committed to supporting art and culture. They understand you cannot build communities without the life, the soul and the business the arts bring. And this is going to become ever more important as the devolution agenda gathers steam. It is now up to us to work with all our partners, to try and ensure that that the benefits of art and culture, that have been understood and supported on a national level, are delivered locally.