Arts: Funding — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:38 pm on 3rd February 2011.

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Photo of Lord Bragg Lord Bragg Labour 3:38 pm, 3rd February 2011

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for securing this debate. I also congratulate my noble friend Lady Bakewell on an exceptional maiden speech. I declare an interest as president of the National Campaign for the Arts.

We are seeing a rather mindless scything down across the land-"swish, swish" goes the scythe, and down come the weeds; but down, too, come the crops and the blooms. And who is scattering the good seed on the land? They swish and chop away, the coalition cutters, with little discrimination and less differentiation, but above all they fail to identify that which will grow the future-the knowledge industry; niche, high quality, intelligent, globally marketable; we are good at it, and have been for a very long time, in the sciences, technology and the arts.

How much more do the arts in this country have to prove? It bears repeating that for every pound the Government invest, up to £15 is generated. About 2 million highly skilled people are employed in the field. From a modest start after World War II they have burgeoned into an aurora of lights-London, the world centre of music and theatre, as we heard, and a constellation of interdependent disciplines; more book festivals than any other country on the planet; contesting with America for the lead in musicals, the fine arts, films and pop music, with our television and radio richly irrigating the process. It works, it grows. Why slash it? What gain is there? I would appreciate an answer from the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings.

Over the past half century we have forged a creative economy that is not only envied but magnetic in its galvanising effect. Recent intensive research in America has shown that when there is fierce and successful economic growth, it is essentially bound up with an arts culture that is in itself fierce and successful. The Silicon Valley story, for instance, owes a great deal to the technology of the west coast, but it has been convincingly proved that it also owes a great deal to the creative pulse that rocked and rolled and flower-powered through California in the 1960s and 1970s. When we consider the past, we find that these nodal points of prosperity and advancement share that characteristic-none more than in the glory that was Athens in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. By chance, I did a radio programme on Aristotle last week. What he wrote is central to this debate. He has influenced civilisations for two and half thousand years, so I am sure that your Lordships will give him a hearing here today in your House.

Aristotle lived at a time when creativity and intellectual excellence across the waterfront-science, technology, the economy and the arts-were seamlessly plaited together, and appreciated and supported. The result was a marvel of dynamic growth and a world-changing civilisation. Professor Angie Hobbs of Warwick University pointed out that Aristotle thought of art as much more central to human existence than mere pleasure. He believed that the correct appreciation of art was crucial for the formation of a person's character and would improve their behaviour in society as a whole. He developed this in his other works, and, importantly for this debate, he included it in his description of the best way to educate children.

This is a truth stated then which we can see, and see working now. For instance, a few years ago I made a film with the composer Howard Goodall to show how the introduction of choirs and orchestras into schools had a spectacular effect on the children. Their discipline improved and their self-worth soared. In those schools we saw children-particularly children from underprivileged backgrounds, soon to be more underprivileged-discover, through playing instruments and singing in choirs, the joy, the self-respect and the pleasure of learning, which was a revelation to them. The disadvantaged were given an opportunity and they seized it. These institutions will now be cut.

I suggest that this debate is not only about funding of the arts or the strength of the unique UK tripod of public funding-30 years in the making-through a newly effective Arts Council, of business investment and the box office. It is about giving fuller, democratic advantage to people, especially the children in this country, so that through knowledge and skill in the arts they can have a chance to make the best of themselves and the best of a society that badly needs to look after its own more carefully. This debate is in many ways every bit as much about funding our future as it is about funding the arts.