Simon Stephens, Issue 116/10, p4, 01.10.2016
Recognising culture across the UK
Reflecting the wider political turmoil in the UK, there has been significant upheaval recently in government departments with responsibility for arts and culture. In Wales, following elections in May, there is no dedicated culture or heritage minister, with museums now part of the economy and infrastructure department.

There has also been a reorganisation in Northern Ireland this year, resulting in the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure dissolving, and museums becoming part of the Department for Communities.

Culture’s place is much more stable in Scotland, where Fiona Hyslop is the cabinet secretary for culture, tourism and external affairs, a position that she has held since 2011.

Until recently, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport was also relatively stable. Admittedly, there were four culture secretaries in England between 2010 and July 2016, but Ed Vaizey was the arts minister for that entire period. That all changed after the Brexit vote, with a new culture secretary, Karen Bradley, and the appointment of Matt Hancock as the minister for what is now called digital and culture.

One of Hancock’s first speeches as a minister was to the Creative Industries Foundation, where he addressed issues such as the value of culture and increasing access to the arts. While discussing artistic excellence, he talked about the need to “blast British culture out of its heartlands of WC1 to every part of our islands”.

The problem with this viewpoint is that it regards culture as something that London exports to everywhere else, rather than it being something that exists in its own right across the UK.

There is no doubt that London has fantastic museums, galleries, theatres and so on, but all over Britain there are communities with distinct identities and their own ways of experiencing and sharing their culture. Indeed, in this issue one of our features looks at how regional art galleries in England are working together to develop exciting and ambitious exhibition programmes that meet the needs of their audiences.

Hancock says access to the arts is about “diversity in all its forms”. But the importance of cultural identity in communities all over the UK needs to be acknowledged for this diversity to be truly valued.

Simon Stephens, editor, Museums Journal