Disguise Art as Education and Watch the Money Roll In

Article excerpt

Here's a scenario I fantasise might have happened during the public spending negotiations between the Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, and the Chancellor, Gordon Brown. The Chancellor might have asked Ms Jowell about Stoppard's new trilogy of plays, about to open at the National Theatre. Ms Jowell could have whipped out a copy of the New Statesman, and said: "Never mind, the plays. Take a look at this."

In the magazine, Stoppard declares that New Labour lacks culture. Due to lack of money, says Sir Tom, "regional theatres can't afford to put on new writing as often as they did... I don't want to be seen as trying to get theatre a bigger slice of the cake. It's about the view of life of those who provide the cake - what a culture or society is trying to be. When you go abroad, you feel that culture is integral, not a little treat for a day off... It comes back to lack of culture. The Government knows that the state of the health service will lose them votes, whereas the state of the arts will not."

Then Tessa would slam the article down on the Treasury table, her piercing blue eyes penetrating Gordon's expressionless defence until he relented, got out the cheque book and eased the travails of regional theatres and galleries.

It's a scenario that won't have happened for two reasons. First, Mr Brown will have made it clear that the priorities this year are health and education and might have hinted, not altogether unreasonably, that the arts recently had a record increase in revenue spending and still reap the benefits from the lottery.

The second reason is that Tessa Jowell doesn't agree with Tom Stoppard anyway. From my recent conversations with her, it is clear that she believes that Labour has done much for the arts, particularly in the area of increasing access for the disadvantaged, with more to come on that front in the autumn. Yes, she wants more money; but her approach is not to argue that we just need art for art's sake, but (hit those government priority buttons) art for education's sake.

Actually, it's a canny way of getting to the Chancellor's soul and, perhaps, his coffers. With her Secretary of State for sport hat on, Ms Jowell has been waging an argument that sport leads to fitness which prevents obesity among the young, and obesity among the young is reaching epidemic proportions. With her arts hat on she argues absolutely correctly that access to art, theatre and music is a vital part of education; and, as with the Baltic centre opening in Gateshead this week, the arts are driving the regeneration of our cities. …