The new shadow minister for culture, Dan Jarvis MP, wants to make friends with the sector. Three weeks into his new role he has provided a rousing statement of intent on the Guardian Culture Professionals Network site.

He believes -somewhat over-optimistically in my opinion, given the circumstances and his lack of decision making power while in opposition – that: “we are on the cusp of a new era, which if grasped will firmly secure Britain’s continued role as a leader both in the arts, and the creative industries. The legacy of the last decade has meant that we have the foundations to ensure that our children can become artists, sculptors and creative minds and that our country can continue to be known as a number one tourist destination.”

And he goes on to discuss the role of digital transformation:

The internet has meant that the world has changed greatly since 1997, and the government needs to ensure that our creative industries and its entrepreneurs, small businesses and large corporations can take advantage of that”.

It was this statement that moved me to comment on his piece, as follows:

Dan, this is beautifully written and I still feel sad when I remember how short-lived the Find Your Talent programme was (put to death immediately the Coalition came to power). One of the measures of how embedded arts and heritage has become is that we take free entry to museums for granted and can barely remember when it was otherwise.

The Government is indeed taking dangerous risks with its “philanthropy gamble”, and one that would appear highly unlikely to pay off for the many arts organisations outside London, and the smaller unglamourous organisations within London. There are many and obvious reasons for this and as a policy, it has all the substance of grasping at soggy wet straws. I am very much looking forward to your report and I’m sure it will be read by many with huge interest.

You are also right, that the internet and ubiquity of PCs is a massively useful, stimulating and enabling tool, and the digital industries sector is not only thriving but increasingly powerful. This sub-sector of the creative industries is a huge economic driver for Britain, a big employer and a sector that is more likely to grow exponentially than not (despite the current blip). But it does concern me that our civic and national authorities are increasingly defining the creative industries as “the digital sector”, with a consequent potential to crowd out in policy terms the other areas of intensely creative activity. The arts, in all their kaleidoscopic forms, may be less high-growth but they are none the less crucially valuable to the concept of an exciting, world class Creative Britain.

As you settle into your new role, please remember that arts, culture and heritage – even digital – are not only about gradgrind economics and hothousing the wealth creators of the future. They’re also about enjoyment, and well-rounded citizens, and meaningfulness in life. The arts are good for many peoples’ bank balances as well, but it’s more important that they are good for our national emotional and psychological health.


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