Wikipedia says a White Paper is “an authoritative report or guide that informs readers concisely about a complex issue and presents the issuing body's philosophy on the matter”. Infopedia says White Papers are “sales and marketing documents used to entice or persuade potential customers to learn more about or purchase a particular product, service, technology or methodology”. In the case of the Culture White Paper launched today, Jude Kelly calls it simply “a statement of belief”. So what is it?
It would be churlish not to recognize the achievement of producing such a document, and what it does is set out in black and, particularly, white that the government believes the arts and culture are fundamental to not just the economy but our collective well-being, so there’s philosophy; what it might be selling is the government’s cultural credibility. But Ed Vaizey, whose baby it is, has encapsulated the essence of change that is shoving our artistic endeavours around at the moment, a change he chooses not to credit to the funding storms that the government has assailed the arts with since 2010. There’s a new mood of enterprise, of philanthropy, of self-reliance that needs to be formally harnessed.
So he is taking a lead by telling the arts to talk among themselves more, to co-operate, to get the ridiculous inconsistencies of what is called primly “diversity” – not enough black/female/young/homosexual leaders or even participants – corrected, to ensure that kids from poor backgrounds can have a chance of inspiration. He is standing up with the government and saying “This is what should be happening”, and he did well to get it out now given the extreme tightness of government schedules which meant that if he hadn’t managed it before Easter we might have had to wait until the autumn, or later. One very big arts panjandrum there this morning said in its favour that it was better to have had it than not to have had it.
What the White Paper does not do, and Vaizey might say isn’t supposed to do, is present either a stick or a carrot: no sanction for those that don’t adhere to this statement of belief, no financial encouragement either. As we kept being told today, this is the first White Paper since the very first in 1965 but brief as that was (ten pages, 200 paragraphs, Vaizey reminded us) it was accompanied by a considerable hike in arts subsidy and a new national brief for the Arts Council: there’s no new cash in these 68 pages.
There is plenty in the White Paper that we already know about – the Great Exhibition of the North, City of Culture, £20m for doing up cathedrals – because they are Treasury initiatives already announced by George Osborne. The fact is that the kind of arts that happen in communities and tend to be run by local authorities make almost £6bn a year for this country, and Vaizey is having to find ways of relieving the local authority arts funding crisis without cash. So show willing, not your wallet.
Politics, I’m afraid. Another panjandrum pointed out to me that there is one British institution that more than any other commissions, produces, sells, exports the best of our culture, and in the course of it entertains and informs the entire nation, and it gets no mention anywhere in this document. It is, of course, the BBC. Now why ever would that be?