The Creative Society is an arts employment charity that helps young people into jobs in the creative and cultural industries.
Do you know any philanthropists? They will be the key to arts funding if the Conservatives form the next government. Jeremy Hunt, shadow culture secretary presented his party’s arts manifesto this week. The plans are well summarised by Charlotte Higgins’s interview of Hunt in the Guardian but there is little that we have not already heard. There will be cuts, yes, but they would be worse under Labour, claims Hunt. It is interesting, though, to see the philanthropy deal spelt out in more detail: there will be more from the Lottery (philanthropy from the poor) and reform of gift-aid so that support for the arts during a lifetime can stand in lieu of inheritance tax (the philanthropy of the rich). In other words, their donations will not only ensure philanthropists a good seat at the opera, it will reduce their tax bills. Maybe the rest of us could similarly offset our cinema and theatre tickets against our income tax. That would be fair but I’m not sure the Treasury would save money with these fiddles.
Philanthropy has always appealed to the Tories and no doubt some of their supporters yearn for the days when the sick and the righteous needy could be similarly despatched to the mercies of work houses funded by benefactors. But for all Hunt’s no-doubt-sincere belief that the Americans do such things better, philanthropic giving in the States is – of course – down over the past year for the obvious reasons that the investment revenues of the rich are down.
What I fear is missing from the debate about arts funding, from Hunt and from Labour, is a broader recognition of what the arts means to the economy as a whole. All parties talk as if the point of supporting a creative culture in Britain is to give ourselves a nice treat after the really important business of the day. This is dangerously wrong. Britain is heavily dependent upon its creative industries. They make up the fastest growing sector of the economy (averaging 5 per cent a year in the decade after Labour came to power – twice the rate of the rest of the economy). The National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts argues that Britain’s creative sector has a direct impact on innovation throughout the economy. In other words, Lord Mandelson won’t succeed with his dream of a digital, carbon-free Britain if we don’t first encourage the creative industries. We won’t maintain vitally important tourism into Britain if we don’t support drama big and small, exhibitions of the masters and subsidised artists’ studios, Daniel Barenboim sold out months in advance and a bit of help for the amateur brass band.
“Arts make us a more civilised, emotionally literate, self-aware. If I was going to wax lyrical – I would talk about how they make people better able to cope with the recession. Arts are fundamentally important,” say Hunt. Yes, yes. But Jeremy, they also make us rich!