Opinion

Editorial, June: Maria Miller’s tale

- 4 June 2013

Maria Miller used her first speech on the arts since taking over to urge arts leaders to ‘hammer home the value of culture to our economy’; the comment pages of the dailies went into overdrive and all manner of artistic luminaries queued up to voice their displeasure.

However, there was an essential honesty to Miller’s approach, and there is little to be gained by shooting the messenger. If her ambition was to be an advocate for the arts, she has found herself mainly to be a bearer of bad news ‒ but she did lay it out pretty straight. With a spending review on the way, everyone in the arts world is braced for further cuts, and Miller was laying out the last line of defence: make the economic case, because the bean counters only count beans.

So, how does one make the economic case? An independent report commissioned by the Arts Council followed up early in May with the headline finding that the UK cultural industries put £7 back into the economy for every £1 they receive in subsidy. But where does classical music fit into this overall story? We’ve gone to independent stats gurus Full Fact for a brief overview of the available data. Good news? Not really. But I very much doubt you will see something in the report that will surprise you. The truth is that in quantifiable economic terms, classical music is a dud, being both expensive to produce and having a limited audience. So, should we all retrain?

Dame Liz Forgan said that the danger of ‘directing our investment in culture for its commercial potential [is] self-defeating because then you get accountants making artistic decisions, which is as silly as having artists making accounting ones’. Variations of the same argument came from all corners of the cultural sector, and very eloquently from John Gilhooly in his speech at the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards (of which more from Keith Clarke). While reminding that ‘it is important that we don’t come across to the wider world or government as being fragmented or self-serving,’ Gilhooly made the point that ‘making money never has, and never should be, the driving force for great art’.

That sentiment becomes crucial for classical music, where value-for-money is only attainable if we argue that the very concept of ‘value’ extends far beyond the ledger book.

In the June issue we’ve put together a focus on community and outreach projects, which celebrates a few examples of the classical music industry’s willingness to engage with the world around it. Start with our cover story, on Glyndebourne’s Imago, where we take a look at fantastic work, achieved on a shoestring, which is breaking social boundaries as well as pushing artistic ones.

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