Cultural Playing Field

Arts Council England State of the Arts debate by Robin Simpson
November 21, 2014, 4:05 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , ,

On Tuesday evening I was at the Southbank Centre in London for the Arts Council England ‘State of the Arts’ debate. This event was used to launch ACE’s new publication: ‘Create: A journal of perspectives on the value of art and culture’ – see:

The State of the Arts debate consisted of two panel discussions, very effectively chaired by Victoria Derbyshire from BBC Radio Five Live. The first discussion looked at ‘Culture and the city: what is the role of arts and culture in the growth of our major metropolitan centres?’ The panel consisted of Doreen Stephenson (the Leader of East Lindsey District Council), Lord Adonis, the journalist Simon Jenkins (who is Chair of the National Trust) and Lord Heseltine. Michael Heseltine suggested that the process of human ingenuity and creativity is unstoppable and called it “a spontaneous eruption of natural human instinct”. The discussion soon became focussed on the ‘rebalancing’ issue (raised through the reports of GPS Culture) with Simon Jenkins saying that, when it comes to how we subsidise the arts “London just eats it”. He went on to suggest that “the real trouble is at local government level where it really has been quite savage. And if you want to know my view about London funding there ought to be a massive cross-subsidy from London to the provinces. London can look after itself, more or less.”

The second panel discussion was on ‘Education: how can every child benefit from arts and culture?’. The panel comprised the Shadow Schools Minister Kevin Brennan, Dave Moutrey (Director and Chief Executive of Home, the new arts centre in Manchester), Professor John Coyne (Vice-Chancellor of the University of Derby) and the scientist and novelist, Professor Sunetra Gupta. On the education system, Sunetra Gupta said “the main return we want from our investment is creativity” and Dave Moutrey spoke about the importance of “learning the joy of reading, not just learning reading”. Kevin Brennan felt that “education should be about producing a well rounded individual” and John Coyne worried that he was from the generation that was “educated” whereas his daughters were “assessed”. I liked Suneptra Gupta’s plea for a “system in which you can study things you’re not good at” and Dave Moutrey agreed that “education shouldn’t just be about passing exams.” This discussion became dominated by the recent warning from the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, that studying arts subjects could hold young people back in the job market. John Coyne very politely suggested that the Minister “was well-meaning misunderstood and badly briefed”. Kevin Brennan simply pointed out that, in educational terms, “politicians are a mixed ability group”.

Robin Simpson.

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