Darren’s epistle to the Philistines
As with every change of government, there’ll be a different accent to the appointment to quango boards. Cameron had got into the habit of choosing chairs of subsidised arts organisations himself, so there has been a flutter of bankers and hedge fund managers appointed. His successor might think she has got enough to do and leave these appointments to her ministers.
But what of the Arts Council? Sir Peter Bazalgette goes to ITV at the end of the year, plonked in by Jeremy Hunt four years ago to replace the sacked Liz Forgan and probably one of the most effective ACE chairs to date with a bewilderingly effective network of contacts in the right places. But his successor has still not be named.
The word is that there is a shortlist, of four white males – in fact, many had pencilled in the name of Rupert Gavin, business man/theatre impresario/Historic Royal Palaces chair - and that might not seem satisfactory to the new female PM and the new female SoS. That SoS, Karen Bradley, is reportedly throwing herself into the arts having been the surprise preference of Mrs May over Mike Hancock who might have felt he had earned it but had to make do with second prize. So there may have to be a new shortlist with at least two ladies on it this time, and a pragmatist might look no further than the recently retired ACE deputy CEO Althea Enfushile, experienced, feared and admired in equal measure and very wise to the ways of Whitehall.
But if it should be someone from beyond the sector in the Cameron mode, she or he has a useful guide waiting on their in-tray: The Arts Dividend: why investment in culture pays by Darren Henley, chief executive of the Arts Council whose mentor has been the out-going chair, Baz Bazalgette. He presents this little volume as a jaunt through his first year at ACE, but it is a statement of his philosophy of funding for the arts which is no longer subsidy, “I cannot abide the term”, in words that should appeal to the accountant in Mrs Bradley. We’re all partners now, investing in a creative sector whose returns, among others that some would think more significant, include returning £80 billion a year to the economy.
It has been a year of discovery, he says, of travelling the country and finding the inventiveness of Kneehigh Theatre in Cornwall, the wisdom of the Cambridge-educated East End rap artist George the Poet, the dedication of the disabled musicians of Bristol’s British ParaOrchestra, and so on.
A large part of the investment, he will want the new government to know, must be in arts education, and he quotes Nicholas Serota: “Public investment creates the nursery for our success and future generations will not forgive us if we fail to plant the seed for the next crop”, and it’s that amorphous thing “cultural education”, the thing that gives humanity to all subjects learned, that he want his reader to grasp. Of the top ten universities for getting a job, six are arts institutions.
It’s an investment in our collective health because the arts generate feel-good which improves your well-being, so art is good for you; the arts and technology are natural partners, the latter being used by the former to transform its marketing, its access and its reach; local authority investment needs to be assured, because “artists… have the power to regenerate, define and animate villages, towns and cities” and that investment has to be intensified outside London.
It’s a story of “Travels with my iPad” as Henley discovers more and more examples of how “sustained and strategic investment” in the arts has allowed us to be as creatively good as the world acknowledges we are, “a huge equity on the international stage”, he says. “This is the Arts Dividend. It’s investment that pays” he finally tells his new chair, the new Secretary of State and, he will hope, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer. “And we squander that investment at our peril”.