Rule Brittania, capital of culture?


Lots of buzz around the British government’s upcoming Green Paper to be launched next week, which reportedly includes plans to turn the UK into the ‘world’s creative hub’– proposing a £200 million national film centre, a “world creative economy forum”/conference, a new apprenticeship scheme for the creative industries, and five hours a week cultural education available to all children, amongst a long list of initiatives (for a full summary see The Times). This is the most ambitious set of cultural policy proposals in recent years, largely focused around the creative industries– however response has ranged from the wildly enthusiastic to the deeply cynical.

In the latter category, Ed Vaizey (Conservative arts frontbencher) is quoted in The Times calling the proposal “… more like a Stalinist Five-Year Plan than a vision for creative industries in the years ahead. ” Jonathan Jones in The Guardian is equally skeptical, though on different grounds:

Now, with all these pompous “initiatives”, the government is crudely trying to associate itself with something for which it can claim no credit whatsoever. In fact, the most likely outcome of such interference is slow death. Is it helpful to say children have a “right” to five hours of culture a week? In theory, yes, but who defines culture? And how do you make it attractive? There are ways to excite children about high art but I don’t think they will appeal to the state. Instead there will be more school trips to museums (which already groan under the numbers of kids on weekdays) led by teachers with no language to explain why Turner or Poussin matter. I think there’s no substitute for personal discovery of art.

On the issue of the five hours’ weekly cultural exposure, Andrew Dickson takes the opposing view:

As often happens when headline schemes get announced, people pile in to criticise. Some teachers were upset that the plans were “unrealistic” and risked overloading an already packed week. Jonathan Jones worried that it was all a smokescreen, an attempt to take the thrill out of culture by turning it into yet more institutionalised target-fodder. That’s a shame. As many of you pointed out on the blog, both of those perspectives have something to offer, but they shouldn’t blind us to the potential of this scheme…

Indeed the Guardian Arts blog contains much interesting discussion on the subject of public subsidy and the arts (that reminds me to add an RSS feed). Yesterday’s Guardian also carried a series of responses from creative peeps weighing in on the access issue, where opinion too was mixed– a sample:

Michael Nyman, composer
This is a typical Labour Government smokescreen: it’s a reflection that nothing is going on in culture in schools. And they’re talking a load of bollocks about getting professionals to go into schools. Who is going to find the time to do it?

David Edgar, playwright
I think it’s terrific and exciting and right. I hope it encourages young people to learn about the arts of the past and the present.

Kwame Kwei Armah, playwright
A guaranteed five hours sounds brilliant. Is it too much? Hell, no. In ethnic minority communities, you’ve got to be a lawyer, a doctor or an accountant. The arts are low on the list, and I’m a big advocate for making them our fifth estate. I believe in the power of art, not only to increase our empathy and humanity, but also to bring lots of money into the country – it’s win-win.

So more government=good, more government=bad… such seem to be the polarities of the debate. It’s hard not to speculate on whether the Irish government would (a) ever consider such a set of initiatives, and (b) what the reaction of the arts community would be. My gut is that any such move would be enthusiastically welcomed, but this draws from a policy context where the arts have been largely ignored in education and economy, and the creative industries in Ireland certainly aren’t as developed as in the UK. However the odds of this happening remind of that adage about snowballs, southern climes, and risk assessment.

Expect to see more on this issue next week when the Green Paper is released…