Miller: economic argument is one of many

Culture secretary changes tack
Patrick Steel
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Culture should “make our hearts sing” said culture secretary Maria Miller in a speech last week at the British Library in which she emphasised the need to make the “economic, social and cultural arguments” for arts and culture.

This emphasis contrasted with her speech at the British Museum last year in which she said that making the economic case was paramount.

But museum directors outside London told Museums Journal that the tone may have changed but the reality on the ground is that ongoing cuts to local government are still impacting on the cultural sector.

One regional museum director who declined to be named said that the speech was a “non-statement” and it was “not really saying anything new”.

Nick Merriman, director of the Manchester Museum, while welcoming the emphasis on culture’s value beyond the purely economic, warned that lack of funding was hampering the potential to enrich people’s lives or have the economic impact that it could. He said that in the regions museums have been cut severely and lack the kind of philanthropic support that London institutions receive.

He added: “What we need in the regions is a recognition of the huge value museums play in the lives of local communities and in generating tourism. A reasonable rebalancing of investment across the country would significantly help to address this.”

David Anderson, Museums Association president and director of National Museum Wales, cited last year’s Rebalancing the Regions report, which highlighted an imbalance in funding between London and the rest of the country: "The arts may be capable - as Maria Miller says - of making the heart sing, but her speech failed to address the problem of Arts Council England's broken funding system, and this will be what she is remembered for."

But Alan Davey, chief executive of Arts Council England, welcomed the speech, saying Miller’s emphasis on the importance of looking at the value of arts and culture in a holistic way “mirrors” ACE’s approach for making the case for investment.

He said: “Our starting point will always be the unique ability that the arts have to ‘make your heart sing’ but in these challenging times it is essential to articulate a new political economy which considers the whole argument, rather than focusing on one element such as their economic value or the benefits to health and well-being.”



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