Why politics and art don’t mix

It was a predictably oleaginous performance by the politicians at the Creative Industries Federation’s second birthday party this week, with the culture secretary Karen Bradley telling the Fed members gathered at the Design Museum what they’ve been telling her and her predecessors for the last 24 months, that the sector is worth nearly £90b a year to the economy, and the business secretary Greg Clark revealing that the creative industries will be part of the government’s industrial strategy – if they weren’t we’d have a story.


But then Bradley had the front to thank the Fed for its advocacy of the arts in education and helping to get history of art A level reinstated. It's something John Sorrell, the Fed’s founder who is to stand down as chair, has always had close to his heart – fighting for “a rounded education policy that nurtures creativity”. He hasn't won it.

Arts education is disappearing from the system, and “funding for pilots to examine the impact of arts in education” as Bradley promised is not going to change that. It’s important not just because our kids need to know the joy of making things, it’s that school is the entry point for the appreciation of the art in all our lives, and it works through the health services, town planning as eel as education all of which builds respect for arts organisations and in turn gives them confidence in what they do.

It is at the local level that the crucial difference is made, with councils’ arts officers making the links between schools etc and arts organisations in their manors. Hidden in the Fed’s annual report published that very evening is a disturbing statistic: the Chief Cultural and Leisure Officers’ Association estimates that 6,000 local government arts officers' posts linking with the arts, museums and sport have been lost because of the cuts. Art history may be back on the A level curriculum, creative culture is nowhere. It means that whatever pilots the Treasury commissions, however much industrial strategising includes the creative industries, without subjects like design, performance, creative writing, at local level there will be no creative industries.

That’s the rant of the week. I want to say something about the two big appointments.

Maria Balshaw was for long the runaway favourite to succeed Serota at the Tate, but many thought she wouldn’t want to leave Manchester and a job half finished (not to mention her kids who are at school there and her husband who runs the Manchester Museum). Having got her beloved Whitworth Gallery remade and open the next  task, as Manchester’s cultural planning supremo, was to get the £110m performance venue, The Factory, set up. Yesterday it got planning permission, so maybe she thinks that will do, and she will have worked out how to hold the family contentedly together as well. We should be relieved that she has.  It has been said that she is best dealing with artists, not running buildings, but what she does is leadership – she’s a graduate of the Clore Leadership Programme – who also happens to like and is trusted by artists. She’ll be great.

Tristram Hunt going to the V&A was out of the dark corner, but no other external names were obvious. Inevitably, more is made of the damage he’ll make to the Labour Party by prompting another unwanted by-election, and many will say his lack of museum experience will leave him floundering. But though he is a dedicated Labour party man, as he keeps saying, he is to his cuticles an historian, and a Victorian scholar at that. He is young, frighteningly clever and extremely personable, and he’ll be a fitting successor to Mark Jones rather than the interregnum Martin Roth, in the place he may feel he was far more destined to be than No 10 as he was once mooted to be headed. So two good stories at the start of a year which promised so little.

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