Empty statement?

Apart from a curious pledge to support the rescue of a remote Yorkshire Palladian pile, to not cut the main arts subsidy and offer a tiny tax concession for permanent exhibitions, the Chancellor spoke yesterday and uttered nothing culturally. Or did he?

In the short term his refusal to address the crisis in local government finances, and specifically the closure of regional institutions that have national and international significance like the New Walsall Art Gallery, suggests George Osborne’s epiphany and mission to bring cultural enlightenment to the benighted north has not been inherited by his successor.

In the short term his refusal to address the crisis in local government finances, and specifically the closure of regional institutions that have national and international significance like the New Walsall Art Gallery, suggests George Osborne’s epiphany and mission to bring cultural enlightenment to the benighted north has not been inherited by his successor.

The last autumn statement is, of course, all about Brexit, acknowledging that the idiocy of calling the referendum has to be paid for and that the only way to deal with the situation is to build infrastructures that both meet our needs and make us attractive to investors. It seems that the £29m Mr Hammond wants to invest is to be focussed on r&d in science and technology, but as John Kampfner points out – and it seems to be necessary to keep pointing it out – the creative industries is the fastest growing sector in the faltering UK economy, a spectrum ranging from architecture to video games.

As it happens today sees the opening of the Design Museum, a monument not only to largely British inventiveness, taste, entrepreneurship, aesthetic, marketing and grasp of ergonomics, not to mention creativity, but to the determination of one man, Terence Conran, to get design on a pedestal and keep it there.

He said that governments need to understand “that design is very important to the quality of life of the citizens of our country, and it’s also terribly important to the economy, especially to manufacturers”. And, like for Conran, Dyson and most of our internationally successful designers, all that starts at art school, and before that secondary school where politically art has no place. But that is the most important part of the infrastructure Hammond needs to build if he is to capitalise on this fastest growing sector and give Britain a face outside its own door. You cannot step inside John Pawson’s Design Museum without realising that an artist has made this, not a scientist.

But art is not all commercial, it's personal and a personal enjoyment that gets better with sharing. As our museums, theatres and concert halls know that means sharing not just with our friends, neighbours and fellow citizens but with our tourists, patrons too of our restaurants, hotels and shops.

If the Chancellor hasn’t realised this it's for the culture secretary, Karen Bradley, to stake her claim on the infrastructure budget to ensure not only that our high tech creatives are allowed to produce for us, but that local authorities don’t have to make the kind of insidious decision Walsall Council is having to make.
 

 

 

 

 

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