05/07/2011 09:35 BST | Updated 04/09/2011 06:12 BST

Giving to The Arts: We Need to Follow America

It's fitting that in the same week that we welcome the 'HuffPo' to the UK, I've been busy talking about how other big American ideas could help us improve arts funding.

From the National Theatre's 'War Horse' to the Neil MacGregor's 'A History of the World in 100 Objects', there have been some incredible highlights in the British art calendar over the past year. But it has also been an incredibly challenging year for everyone who cares about British arts and culture.

Sadly, we have had to make difficult decisions, and while the Government has tried to limit the impact on frontline budgets, I know these have been painful months for many of us.

The basic dilemma is that arts organisations are fragile. They're often led by brilliant, passionate people who quite rightly think that art matters more than money. Yet without financial security, this fragility becomes vulnerability.

So if we want to nurture great art and strengthen the institutions that sustain it, then we need a stable, long term financial base - one that will insulate the sector from the boom and bust pattern of public sector funding.

Of course we're fortunate in this country to have plenty of individuals ready to give generously to the arts.

Over the last 12 months, we've seen some breath taking examples of individual philanthropy: Terence Conran, Lloyd Dorfman, Dame Vivien Duffield and Sara Miller McCune, to name but a few.

But it's clear there's a lot more we can do to professionalise and develop fundraising capacity and nurture a more widespread philanthropic spirit more widely across the country.

In fact, I see this as my number one priority as Culture Secretary.

Financial independence is the oxygen for great art. It's how we can make sure great British creations, like the Tony-award winning Jerusalem, triumph on an international stage.

So what have we done? In December I launched a 10 point plan for philanthropy, which includes a new £100 million matched-fund to encourage fundraising. I also designated 2011 as the year of corporate philanthropy.

In his budget the Chancellor has also announced measures to simplify gift aid and published a consultation on making gifts of art tax deductible.

And perhaps most significantly, he cut inheritance tax for those pledging 10 per cent or more of their legacy to charity.

When you combine that with the other ideas Francis Maude has put forward to boost charitable giving as a whole, we aim to create a very positive environment for arts fundraising.

As the inspirational Michael Kaiser wrote, UK arts organisations have traditionally had "a reticence to talk about money, let alone ask for it."

That's changing too, with a new willingness to embrace major development programmes, and to build up skills and expertise - something we asked Michael to help us with last month.

Clearly, philanthropy and corporate sponsorship are major pillars, but this also includes membership schemes, commercial income from shops and restaurants and credit card donation programmes too.

There is another missing piece - a vital financial cushion for when times get tough.

Endowments are commonplace in the US, but still quite rare in the UK.

Yet if we want to compete on an international stage, we need to give our cultural institutions the same protection and resilience.

So I believe that 2011 should be the start of a century of British cultural endowments to help us build a firmer investment base for the arts.

The Government can help stimulate this - so this week I have announced plans for a new endowment fund of £55 million, which we hope will trigger a further £130 million in private sector investment through matched funding.

But we also need cultural institutions to embrace the ideas and build up the capacity to attract and manage these funds more effectively.

For me, that's the challenge for the years ahead.

Shakespeare wrote of art and beauty threatened by the 'wrackful siege of battering days'.

Nobody can predict how and when the next siege will come.

It's our job to make sure we're ready and that great art is always protected and sustained.