Sector buoyed by Mayor Khan's stance on culture

Caroline Parry, Issue 116/07, p11, 01.07.2016
London’s museums and galleries are heartened by Sadiq Khan’s pledge to put the arts and creative industries at the heart of his administration
London’s new mayor Sadiq Khan has received an optimistic welcome from the city’s museums and galleries after pledging to make “supporting the arts and creative industries” a core priority of his administration.

Khan, who was elected on 7 May, moved quickly to reinforce his commitment to the culture sector with a City Hall event for key figures from the sector on 18 May. He declared culture to be in the city’s DNA and that, alongside housing, the environment and security, he wanted it to be one of the themes that would define his tenure.

Emily Candler, the executive director of the Exhibition Road Cultural Group, says it is early days, but Khan is making “all the right noises”.

“It is really positive that he made such a big public stand to say he is putting culture at the centre of his administration,” she adds.

Khan spoke of “establishing a new benchmark in pro-culture planning” and, in his mayoral manifesto, pledged to produce a cultural infrastructure plan to identify what is needed to ensure London’s future as a culture capital. This will include developing Creative Enterprise Zones and promoting the city’s “cultural riches” abroad.

Jude Kelly, the director of the Southbank Centre, says the mayor’s focus on culture is a “big endorsement” for the arts and cultural sector.

“He has thrown down a non-aggressive gauntlet by saying: ‘If we believe arts and culture is of this much merit, then let’s really do something.’” Kelly says. “I think he will keep the debate going and urge it to have detail and muscle.”

Open to all

Access for all Londoners to the city’s cultural activities is also central to Khan’s manifesto pledges through schemes such as the London Borough of Culture competition, which is expected to mirror the UK City of Culture and European Capital of Culture initiatives, and the Love London pass, which will offer discounts to exhibitions, galleries, shows and concerts.

The detail of how these schemes will work in practice has yet to be announced, including how they will be funded.

Caroline Worthington, the chief executive of Bexley Heritage Trust, says: “In his manifesto, Khan noted that ‘funding for London’s arts is increasingly stretched’, but I wonder where he will manage to find a cash windfall for these initiatives.”

Funding issues aside, the London Borough of Culture scheme has been applauded for its aim of celebrating the city’s lesser-known local venues. Kelly believes the competitive bidding process will encourage “very creative activity”, while Sharon Ament, the director of the Museum of London, hopes it will encourage people to travel beyond their own boroughs.

“There are whole groups of people in London that don’t leave their borough or cross the river,” says Ament. “Some of the greatest museums in the world are here and are free, but people do not feel that these are for them.”

School visits are “where the momentum begins”, as they cut across class and ethnicity, adds Ament, who says she would like to see the mayor working on more practical schemes, such as the School Visits Fund, which offers financial help for London schools to visit museums. The Museum of London manages the fund on behalf of the City of London Corporation.

Candler says there is still much the mayor needs to do in terms of improving transport and infrastructure, and enhancing the spaces around cultural institutions.

“It may be ultra-practical but that’s where a mayor that is serious about culture could really help,” Candler says.