Following the resignation of David Cameron and the induction on Theresa May, we’ve seen a reasonably significant shake up in the political establishment. Many faces we’d become accustom to seeing in the press and on our screens, George Osbourne, Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan, all got their marching orders replaced by new(ish) faces.Such a departure of interest to me as a creative professional was the removal of John Whittingdale as Culture Secretary, replaced by the skilled mathematician and MP for Staffordshire Moorlands, Karen Bradley. Given the natures and attitudes of the previous holders of the post – the axe wielding Jeremy Hunt, now imposing his brand of smiling dictatorship over the NHS, and Mr Whittingdale, who knowledge of the sector is vast but showed undoubtable lack of passion and possibly contempt for the arts and the BBC – I’m interested to see if she has any such quirks. I’m wonder how she will take on this job, despite not having background in the arts, sport and technology
The same cannot be said for the new Culture Minister, Matt Hancock MP, who in his one of his first public addresses since taking up the post, is more than happy to demonstrate his history and passion for the creative industries from both a technical and arts perspective.
Talking from the BFI at Southbank, Mr Hancock stated that the creative industries demonstrate excellence year on year. He ensured cultural representatives that the culture will play a central role in Post-Brexit Britain and that he will make a strong case for culture in government. He parroted Mrs May’s policy regarding social mobility and that experiencing great culture, either as a practitioner or participant, shouldn’t be determined by postcode or income. Matt Hancock’s speech put me in mind of a socially awkward tech expert being asked to make a speech at a company Christmas do. It was a little clunky but still slightly endearing. His jokes fell as the fields of his constituency of West Suffolk but none the less he gave a good first impression. He certainly seems more approachable than the he predecessor, blunt and straight forward Ed Vaizey.
The area of Matt Hancock’s speech that due my attention to most was his goal to improve access to culture. This problem has been rife in the arts for years, with low engagement blighting rural areas and the urban and suburban communities across the North.
Initiatives such a Strategic Touring and Creative People and Places have had a great effect on such areas, as stated in an Arts Council report released in 2015. These programmes of funding allow organisations to develop projects that specifically target areas where engagement with the arts in criminally low. These organisations are able to work with communications and build partnerships with local bodies to get people interested in the arts. I 100% support these notions. Getting some of the great work this country produces out of such cities as London, Bristol, and Manchester and into the areas where it is most needed is so vital, but I also support Mr Hancock’s view that access needs to be pushed further. I’m of the option that trying to get culture into area of low engagement is a bit like trying to fill up cracked earthenware pot. You can it to the brim but it will empty over time.
The problem seems to be two-hold. The first issue comes with the nature of touring. It doesn’t have a great deal of permanence. The area won’t refill of its own accord and needs to be constantly topped up. And, secondly, if someone in the local area is inspired as a result of a touring company’s visit or local but temporary project and decides to follow their dreams of becoming a great artists or performer or writer, how likely are they to stay resident in a place with very little cultural infrastructure? Wouldn’t be better to relocate closer to one of our great culture hubs?
In pushing access further, I would hope to see more being put into develop local cultural infrastructure. Not just to make sure that there are local venues to receive touring work, but also to foster local brilliance and provide a scaffold upon which emerging creators can develop their local creative economy. It’s these local doers that can have long lasting impact of their communities and it’s our duty as creative practitioners and the duty of those in power to ensure that they have the opportunity to. By providing the inspired with the tools to invest in their homes, such places will be able to retain culture much more effectively and therefore provide greater access to the cultural realm.
This is going to be a long job and it won’t happen without clever planning and careful investment. We’ve already seen what success can look like. We only need to see the quantum-leap Liverpool made going from a foot note of cultural importance to a leader in the industry following its year as the European Capital Culture in 2008. I can only hope that our new culture minister is up for the job and that our culture leaders are willing to roll their sleeves up and jump down into the trenches with the rest of us and put their money where their mouths are.
-Spare Room, Lancaster, UK ♦