Museums and Galleries - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:21 pm on 23rd January 2018.

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Photo of Viscount Falkland Viscount Falkland Crossbench 5:21 pm, 23rd January 2018

My Lords, first, I join the thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, if not for this debate, for how much he has put into Parliament by way of the arts. For me, it is always a pleasure to go to one of the early morning visits to various galleries and museums that he and the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, arrange for us: it is a great boon and joy to this House. Thank you.

To take up a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, made, you do not have to teach children creativity. They are pretty close, when they are born, to their highest level of creativity. This morning, I rang up my daughter, who is an artist. She was on her way to Edinburgh to get some pictures printed. I was talking about this debate and we touched on that subject. She said, “You will notice, particularly in our family but, I think, in all families, that if you give a child a pencil at whatever age, it will want to draw something. How that proceeds in the child’s life depends on the stimulus it gets from seeing things and having its creativity engendered”. Having said that, most of my family are in the arts in one form or another, and I had a painter mother, so it is very close to me.

Before the Second World War we lived in Devon, and people always say there is no culture west of Bristol, although I do not know whether that still holds, so the first museum I went to was when my father was in the Air Force and posted to northern Scotland. We took the overnight train after having been in Madame Tussaud’s, which I suppose is the nearest that I had been to a museum. We arrived in Inverness, and there was a little time to get our connection to Nairn, which was our destination. We spent the rest of the day in the Inverness Museum. I do not know whether any of your Lordships have been to the Inverness Museum, or if it is as it was when I was eight years old—that is a bit further back than 20 years. It was absolutely riveting, because it was full of claymores, shields and people in tartan. I got my mother to buy me a book of tartans. I was overwhelmed by this.

When we came back to Devon after the war, there was still not much going on in terms of culture west of Bristol, I took up drawing a bit, because my mother had encouraged me, and so it went on. But I never had the gift that my mother had—my daughter has it; she is quite a successful painter. I think it is all about children. Galleries and museums should be run and funded with children in mind all the time. We want them to start when they are young and to go on visiting museums, galleries, learning, being stimulated, and so on.

The funding of museums is difficult. The noble Lord who initiated the debate talked about problems and I wonder whether there is anything other than funding. It is the overriding problem. I mention the United States now with some caution, but we have been host to a number of art galleries and their supporters here in the House. Galleries and museums often have a huge trail of supporters and trustees who get things together and go on great visits. Funding is no problem because if you are rich in America you can be connected to a museum or a gallery. They can be anywhere. I have seen provincial ones and main ones; the Washington Gallery came here. President Trump has recently stopped all funding, as we know. There is a sort of knee-jerk reaction to everything that Trump does, but of course, he was absolutely right. With most of the funding arrangements, and with so much coming from ordinary people—something I wish we had here—things were being funded that were totally unsuitable, which I shall not mention to your Lordships, as I know how sensitive they are.

Manufacturing is now going to grow, so let us encourage people who grow rich from manufacturing, or whatever, and who are successful to forget about the Rolls-Royce and hankering after a helicopter. They should put their money into the arts because there is kudos in it. The Americans do it for that reason.

I give all praise to those who continue as directors. Incidentally, the last exhibition that I went to, which was arranged by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, was a wonderful Soutine exhibition at the Courtauld, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I got speaking to the director and one of her officers. He told me that exciting things were happening because Courtauld, from its industries, has supported the arts enormously. Because Somerset House is closed for refurbishment, it is going out into the provinces, to the places where it used to have its industries to develop interest in the arts, and so on. What an admirable project.

So there is hope if we make a slight change in direction. We should not just worry about being supported by local authorities, marvellous as they are, if struggling. Let us show a bit of imagination, as the artists do.