Peter Bazalgette became the new chair of the arts council at the end of January

Bazalgette: Grand partnership will be key to sector's future

Geraldine Kendall, 20.03.2013
New arts council chair gives inaugural speech

Peter Bazalgette, the new chair of Arts Council England (ACE), has said building relationships between culture, business, higher education and private individuals will be key to the future of the arts and culture sector.

In Bazalette’s inaugural lecture at a State of the Arts 2013 event today, he said: “Our arts and cultural landscape is now being shaped by what I’m calling a ‘grand partnership’… It contemplates bold new ways of doing things, fighting to create cultural prosperity first and alongside it economic prosperity.”

On a recent tour to familiarise himself with the cultural outlook in 10 English cities, the new arts council chair said he had come across artists and arts leaders working with “visionary local politicians and, significantly, passionate folk from business and higher education” to forge entrepreneurial new partnerships.

Such alliances “recognise the symbiosis between cultural health and economic wealth”, he added.

Bazalgette emphasised the wider benefits of cultural investment, highlighting how the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is worth £5m to the local economy and the Hepworth Wakefield attracted over 100,000 visitors in its first five weeks.

Those figures, said Bazalgette, made “a case compelling enough that Wakefield is one of the local councils actually increasing its culture budget”.

Bazalgette also highlighted the mutual importance of the business community to the arts, describing how Newcastle City Council was persuaded to reverse its decision to cut its culture budget by 100% out of concern it would make the city look “closed for business”.

“The business community was shocked at the potential loss of reputation of their city. It’s not just its cultural reputation but, of course, its economic reputation,” said Bazalgette.

“I think it was the opinions of the business community in Newcastle, as well as some very helpful interventions by others, that made the difference.”

Bazalgette said more needs to be done to strengthen relations with the business world after a 7% drop in corporate giving since 2010.

“Many British businesses are actually better off now than they’d like to say,” he said. “They’ve spent the last three or four years cleaning up their balance sheets, getting rid of their debt, deleveraging.

“They’re in good shape, but they haven’t re-entered what I would call their social commitment and their public responsibility to the community they’re in, and if they do they will benefit from it.”

Despite focusing on alternative funding streams in his speech, Bazalgette reiterated his belief in public funding, which he described as a “seedcorn investment”.

He said: “Public funding will always be the bedrock of Britain’s creative culture because it’s the venture capital that makes wonderful things happen – it’s a relatively small amount of money with a very big result.”

Maurice Davies blogs about Bazalgette's keynote speech