The evening of 8 April was an interesting one for all followers of the arts in the UK. Representatives from five of the UK’s leading political parties met at London’s Royal Opera House for a debate on the future of arts and culture in the UK, ahead of May’s general election.
As a public relations agency with considerable experience in the arts and culture sector, the debate was of great interest to us here at Curzon PR. The debate highlighted the importance of televised debates to the landscape of election campaigning in the 21st century. Furthermore, the fact that the arts has been one of the few political topics to have its own debate, shows that the five parties in attendance – Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Green Party and UKIP – recognise the importance of the arts to the country.
Arts and culture are of great value to the UK for a variety of reasons. Official figures from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, published in 2014, reported that the creative industries were worth £71.4 billion to the UK economy. The UK’s arts and culture sector provides huge benefits to the country’s lucrative tourism industry, with estimations that around 10 million inbound visits to the UK involve some engagement with arts and culture. And it’s not just the British economy that benefits from arts and culture, as having a strong arts and culture sector can hugely improve the social and physical wellbeing of a nation. Several studies, including one by the CASE (Culture and Sport Evidence) Programme, link participation in culture with good health and high life satisfaction, with strong evidence to suggest that the participation of children and young people in the arts can lead to wider social and civic participation.
One positive aspect of the content of the debate, was that all five of the representatives at the Royal Opera House seemed to agree with the above. They all recognised the value of the arts and culture sector to the economy, social lifeblood and national character of the UK. In fact, unlike the fiery party leader’s debate, there was actually very little the representatives disagreed on for significant portions of the debate.
One key criticism, however, has been that there was very little offered in the way of concrete ideas and plans regarding how to address issues in the art industry, such as a lack of social, ethnic and regional diversity in UK arts and culture. Another issue hanging over the arts debate is whether or not public funding can remain at their current levels during a time of austerity.
Whilst it was positive that all members of the debate recognised the importance of the arts sector, it is clear that with the challenges of funding the arts during a time of austerity, whoever is at Downing Street come May, will likely have a significant impact on the future vitality of the UK’s arts and culture sector.