Our Creative Director, Nick Hunt, was invited to write the ‘Last Word’ column for the latest edition of Arts Professional (find it here).
Excitement mounts chez nous as we contemplate a June break, and a first visit to Musiques Metisses, the long-running boutique festival that celebrates the French bonds to West Africa and other global music hotspots. We do it on our own doorstep, too. When we drove into Manchester last week to see the stupendous Portuguese fado singer Mariza, we were being music tourists. Feargal Sharkey is exactly right: “Music provides a huge boost to UK tourism, it drives growth, it sustains thousands of jobs across all regions”. Except it’s not just music, it’s our vibrant contemporary arts. It’s culture that drives tourism in this rainy island. And it is a powerhouse for the economy. Even the Prime Minister knows it.
Last summer, David Cameron gave a keynote speech on tourism, driving home its vital importance to the UK economy and ‘the recovery’. His choice of venue told you everything that he knows but may not acknowledge… Not a museum, a resort or a stately home, but the Serpentine Gallery’s temporary pavilion, the latest in a crazily ambitious series of commissions from leading-edge architects which has been a triumph of vision and ambition – and of cultural tourism. David Cameron seems somehow to grasp this, but the tragedy is that his government does not walk the walk.
So now we plunge into the perfect storm of cuts – arts councils, local authorities, and, worst of all, the abolition of the regional development agencies and their huge strategic programmes. Few cultural projects will get a sniff of the miniscule Regional Growth Fund that replaces them. As architect David Chipperfield unveils his second temple of modern culture in six weeks, maybe we have enough infrastructure now? Perhaps we can just get along, from here on…Well, no. The cogs of the cultural powerhouse need to keep turning. And some of the first effects of it grinding to a halt are seen in the sad scenario of plummeting numbers of earning opportunities for individual artists. Much of this will be due to the abrupt halt to public investment in regeneration and regional development. And surely this can only be exacerbated by the number of public realm commissioners omitted from the new Arts Council England (ACE) portfolio. If the artists are not being sustained now, we will all feel the effects later on.
Meanwhile, the ACE/Turning Point report suggests that visual arts organisations need to strengthen their business models and enhance their ‘sustainability’. But is this reasonable, when so often the real profit and loss account is in the world outside? Turner Contemporary, for example, will not ultimately be judged on how much it earns, but on whether it transforms future prospects for Margate. A tall order, but if anyone can do it…
All power, then, to Gulbenkian for an award shortlist with real wow factor – and evidence that outstanding work can spring from the most disadvantaged communities. Why not invest in them all, Gulbenkian? You know it makes sense. And then there is Culture + Conflict. Michaela Crimmin’s initiative and the other case studies leave me awestruck. It is humbling to realise how much tougher things can be, and how, still, art can rise to the challenge. In the week when Ai Weiwei has finally been glimpsed, alive and well, we must be grateful for small mercies.
This week Nick will cross to the Dark Side (Yorkshire) to marvel at the opening of The Hepworth. But why should Wakefield have two world-beaters? At least both Hepworth and Yorkshire Sculpture Park are showcasing young Lancashire artists – Halima Cassell and Rebecca Chesney.
Nick Hunt is Creative Director of Mid Pennine Arts and a member of the Culture Forum