Simon Stephens, Issue 119/02, 01.02.2019
Creative opportunities are needed at all levels
The government announced last month that five areas in England will share £20m to “unleash creativity across the nation”. Grimsby, Thames Estuary, Plymouth, Wakefield and Worcester have been given the money to invest in culture as part of the Creative Industries Sector Deal, which is designed to “help the country’s world-leading cultural and creative businesses thrive”. 

The Cultural Development Fund has been sold as a step change in how the government invests in culture. It aims to increase access to the arts, heritage and the creative industries, while also boosting local economies by attracting more visitors to each area and supporting the growth of new businesses. 

The government says the fund is the result of Hull’s success as UK City of Culture 2017, which showed how targeted investment in culture can deliver a significant economic boost to an area. Museums and galleries are among those that will benefit from the fund, with Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Hepworth Wakefield involved in the Wakefield project. 

This all sounds great and who would argue that encouraging and supporting creativity is a bad thing? But the problem with the Cultural Development Fund is that it exposes a lack of joined-up thinking.  

While encouraging creativity as part of its industrial strategy, the government is ignoring the fact that many people feel that creativity is being destroyed in schools. The excessive accountability that schools operate under is one problem, while arts subjects being squeezed because of funding pressures and a focus on “core” academic subjects is another. 

It’s all very well supporting the creative industries, but where are the next generation of creative thinkers going to come from if they aren’t nurtured at school? 

As institutions with learning and engagement at their core, this has relevance to museums and galleries, which face some of the same problems as schools, in terms of securing sustainable funding to support creative programming and finding ways to help disadvantaged children.  

What is needed from the government is a genuine commitment to providing creative opportunities for everyone at all levels, starting with schools and then continuing through cultural institutions, including museums and galleries. 

Simon Stephens, editor, Museums  Journal