Ivan Wadeson, responds to ‘Rebalancing our Cultural Capital’: A contribution to the debate on national policy for the arts and culture in England...

November 6, 2013

Healthy debates about the state and future of public support for the arts should always be welcomed. Peter Stark, Christopher Gordon and David Powell provide an intelligent and reasoned analysis in today’s ‘Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital’ offered as ‘a contribution’ to the debate on public investment. Let’s hope the ensuing debate stays as intelligent and reasoned.

Participation is increasing (78% of the English adult population engage at least once a year with the arts) and high-profile success stories such as War Horse or the opening of The Hepworth are becoming common-place in the mainstream media. It would be unfortunate, if not potentially disastrous, for the arts world to engage in some intemperate in-fighting or divide along North vs South lines. The most serious loss here could be the good-will and support of the tax-payers and National Lottery players who provide this substantial public investment.

Stark et al provide a positive example of ‘rebalancing’: a National Investment Programme for cultural production outside London. Their ambition for a ‘polycentric’ and connected ecology that ‘irrigates not drains’ from the capital city is on the face of it one to be supported and celebrated. The next stage of their work makes this even more explicit:

We will argue that the presence of local facilities of real quality to allow widespread engagement with the arts, whether people are participants or audience members, is of ever greater importance for individual and communal wellbeing as digital connectivity becomes more ubiquitous, life expectancy grows and patterns of demography, work, learning and leisure transform.

Whilst the debate is stimulated (and reported upon by the industry and mainstream media) as responsible members of the cultural sector let’s not only keep the debate intelligent, let us ensure we don’t lose sight of those ‘investors’ and supporters we most need to serve. They have a role in this debate too. And if we can realise the positive ambitions of a connected ecology that delivers potentially transformative and widespread engagement, we can all share in the benefits.