Art Fund asks 'Will Brown keep Blair's promises?'

  • 8 March 2007

The Art Fund was invited to hear Tony Blair, in one of his now familiar 'legacy speeches,' hail a 'Golden Age for the Arts' and outline his hopes for the future.

Before the speech, both he and Tessa Jowell MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, were photographed beside Turner’s The Blue Rigi – which, thanks to the extraordinary response from the public to our appeal, has recently been saved for Tate. A timely reminder, we hope, of the public enthusiasm for great works of art and a desire to see them acquired by our public collections.

The Art Fund welcomed Blair’s assurance that there would not be a return to ‘boom and bust’ funding. This went someway towards allaying fears of a harsh spending round this summer. But this, perhaps Blair’s most important speech on the Arts, comes as he prepares to leave office. The pressure is on Brown to ensure a bright future.

As the Guardian’s Martin Kettle asked in his blog, ‘Is it a bankable promise? The arts are desperate that it should be. Sceptics will say that Blair is a past master at telling an audience what it wants to hear. Above all, they will point out that he can propose but Gordon Brown must dispose. Does No 11 intend to deliver on what No 10 has said?’

Blair reflected on the achievements of the past ten years: Government funding has doubled since 1997 and free admission to Museums and Galleries has meant that there are 42 million visits each year to museums and galleries. The Art Fund is delighted about the success of free admission - the campaign which we spear-headed in the late 1990s.

And these are not the same old audiences - between 2002/03 and 2004/05 the number of people from lower socio-economic groups visiting government -sponsored museums increased by almost 30%. Part of this success lies with the Renaissance in the Regions programme which has helped attract almost three quarters of a million new visitors from communities that would not traditionally attend a museum.

Undoubtedly there is much to celebrate, however serious concerns remain about funding for the Arts. Blair spoke of a particular model of government working with the cultural sector that is ‘both immensely successful and distinctively British’.

That model is a mixed economy, combining public funding with private enterprise. It is characterised by partnerships between the creative sectors and private sponsors.

However, as our research has demonstrated, the Arts often fall between these funding posts – inadequate core funding remains a problem for most museums – and acts as a significant barrier to collecting. At a local level, councils are forced into making severe cut-backs and cultural provision is always the first to go – as recent closures of in the London Borough of Wandsworth have demonstrated.

We hope that Blair’s positive assurances about the Arts are reflected in the forthcoming spending round allocation. Blair recognises that in order for the Arts to remain ‘creative and alive’ they require adequate and sustained funding – let’s hope his successor thinks likewise.

Read the Prime Minister’s speech in full