A Party Political Broadcast for Arts Centres

With just six months to go until the general election, it felt timely to take a look at the current thinking about arts and culture amongst the political parties, and what this might mean for arts centres.

One thing is for sure – the outcome of the election is as uncertain as ever and no lobbyist can afford to put all their eggs in one basket. We need to be working across all the parties, and recognising that the balance of power may sit in the hands of smaller parties that the sector has previously ignored.

Economic growth is of course going to be a key factor in everyone’s manifesto, and thanks to some encouraging figures around the growth of creative industries, there is some recognition of our contribution here. However, at a local and regional level, we can and need to get better as articulating this – when was the last time you announced a new project and included a figure for how many jobs or days work for artists it created?

The Conservative Party’s policy was pretty much spelt out in Sajid Javid’s ‘Culture for all’ speech given in Bristol in June (transcript here), when he basically said he’s going to leave us all to get on with it, but could we make everything more accessible, particularly to children and young people and those from different ethnic backgrounds. Given that the Conservative Party includes ‘delivering the best skills for young people’ as one of the five key elements to their economic plan, highlighting the way arts centres work with young people, both in terms of the less tangible benefits of increased creativity, confidence and communication skills, and the more specific activities, such as projects with schools, NEETs, apprenticeships and business advice and support offered to young artists, will be key to demonstrating our value to the Tories.

Labour are likely to pursue a similar agenda. They recently launched the Labour Arts Alliance, which recognises ‘that the arts are fundamental to what it is to be human; for how each individual develops and sees themselves and the world around them. Art and culture enriches the lives of individuals and reinforces communities, whilst also being central to our industrial and economic policy.’ They have already promised to put young people at the heart of their arts policy, as outlined in Harriet Harman’s speech in June 2014 (transcript here) but other party members are also interested in the regions vs London debate which has played out over the last few months, culminating in the Select Committee report into the Arts Council’s work published last week. In it, the Committee says there is a clear arts funding imbalance in favour of London at the expense of tax payers and lottery players in other parts of the country, which must be urgently rectified. There are signs that Labour might enforce the ‘urgency’ of this more than colleagues in other parties, which could be good news for arts centres outside London.

The Liberal Democrats are alone in publishing an official pre-manifesto, which I was excited to see included a whole section on ‘Fair access to the arts, culture and sport’. Sadly, this doesn’t extend beyond maintaining free access to museums, better supporting libraries, campaigning for safe standing areas at football clubs, protecting the BBC and supporting the Creative Industries Council – not a lot in there to inspire those in the arts sector.

UKIP’s culture policies, according to their Policies for People, include amending the smoking ban, opposing plain packaging for tobacco, publishing official documents in English, Welsh and Scots Gaelic and reducing the BBC licence fee – alongside recognising and valuing ‘an overarching, unifying British culture, open to anyone who wishes to identify with Britain and British values’. Oh, and they have committed to abolishing DCMS…

The Green Party have a fairly extensive culture policy, summarised as ‘promoting participation over passive consumption’ with an aim of ‘rebalancing the relationship between cultural superstars and ordinary people’. I am sure arts centre colleagues will join me in welcoming policies such as ‘To develop more relevant structures of support for the arts, building on the work of the Arts Council and ensuring that vibrant regional and local arts cultures can thrive.’ and ‘There may be a role for commercial sponsorship of any cultural activity. This should not be used to reduce the total state support for the Arts, but rather to allow state funding to be redeployed elsewhere.’

Aside from our contribution to the economy then, young people seem to be the key to winning the politicians’ hearts. There is still time to influence the manifestos though, so if you aren’t already talking to your local sitting and prospective MPs, now might be a good time.

Annabel Turpin is Chief Executive of ARC in Stockton on Tees (@annabelturpin)