Demos report endorses Art Fund's Collecting Challenge

  • 15 March 2007

A recent report by the think-tank, Demos, has stated that in terms of funding for our museums, we are not maintaining the competitive edge. A concern raised by The Art Fund only this year when we gave evidence to a select committee of MPs.

The report’s author, John Holden, notes that ‘given the UK’s world-class standing, it is surprising and worrying that culture does not receive more attention across government and that, as a nation, we are under-investing in our cultural infrastructure.’

In support of Art Fund concerns, he comments that one of the most important areas of under-spend is on acquisitions.’ If our cultural institutions are to maintain the inspirational role that they have, we need to replenish and nurture them: cultural diplomacy cannot be sustained in the face of threatened funding cuts.’

Art Fund research, published last year, revealed that some of our institutions are unable to add contemporary work to their collections and so cannot reflect the changing makeup of our own society, let alone maintain their position as an up-to-date global resource. The contrast with some of our international competitors is stark: in Egypt, for example, France supports a cultural institute with 30 archaeological digs and its own scholarly press; the UK has nothing approaching this level of investment.

More broadly, the Demos report notes that the concept of cultural diplomacy is gaining political ground. At the launch of the report, Tessa Jowell spoke about arts and culture as vehicles for Britain's "soft power" in the world, and of cultural diplomacy as "a set of ideas whose time had come".

Undoubtedly, culture plays an invaluable role in fostering a shared identity in an age of globalisation. As the Demos report noted, ‘in an increasingly interconnected world, we should no longer think of culture as subordinate to politics. Instead we should think of culture as providing the operating context for politics’.

However, John Holden, author of the Demos report, raised concerns that the UK is lagging behind – an issue reiterated in this week’s Westminster Hall debate on the subject in the Houses of Parliament. While other countries realise the importance of cultural exchange – France, for example has created a new agency, Cultures France – the government in this country is failing to provide adequate support to its cultural institutions.

The 2012 Olympic Games and Cultural Olympiad will provide an excellent opportunity to promote cultural diplomacy. However, this opportunity must not be squandered – as questions are raised over the source for Olympics funding, the government should ensure that vital lottery money for our cultural institutions is not directed elsewhere.

Demos’ report on Cultural Diplomacy is a welcome addition to the debate on funding for our museums and galleries, placing it in the wider context of ‘soft politics’ and international diplomacy.