Perhaps it’s Constable’s full-leafed trees, Henry Moore’s reclining figures, Turner’s seascapes or Stanley Spencer’s visions. It could originate in Camden Town, Glasgow, Newlyn, Cookham or St Ives. The sound track might be Elgar, Handel, Parry or Walton and there’s bound to be Lennon and McCartney. Does your dramatic preference veer towards the kitchen sink, barrack room or drawing room? Closer to home perhaps it’s Lucian Freud, Harold Pinter, Oscar Wilde or Lord Leighton that strikes a chord.
But in whatever direction your artistic preferences lie, the sustained vigour of British culture always has something to offer. There’s a certain confidence that flows from such a rich heritage and perhaps that is why we in the UK have always been so open to new arts and culture wherever it originates. In London, with its hugely diverse population, we have even more traditions to draw on, to understand and explore.
Enabling more people to have those life-changing encounters with the new and the different is of course one of the reasons we try and invest in our arts programme and why we have continued to do so even as the financial clouds have darkened. But it’s not the only one.
As a country we are less homogenous than we used to be. Far less. If we don’t much care for the idea of a society cantonized along ethnic, religious and cultural lines, there must be opportunities for exchange – intellectual, social and aesthetic. As a major employer and as a representative democracy with legal powers to encourage innovation and creativity, I think councils should give a lead in enabling that exchange and that is what we are trying to do.
And there is also a third reason for supporting the arts, a very hard-headed one. According to HM Government, the creative industries are worth £36 billion plus to the UK economy. Our slice of that pie here in Kensington and Chelsea is far bigger than might be expected given our size and population.
As well as some of the world’s leading cultural and creative institutions we have some 4,000 creative businesses based in the Royal Borough and we would like to see more. Experts also tell us that such businesses are drawn to places with ‘a creative ambience’. We have a great cultural heritage to draw on of course and that gives us an advantage. But if we are to continue to attract creative businesses and the jobs and economic activity that go with them, we need to take culture seriously.
We are living in a new age of austerity but right now, thanks to immense efforts made to reduce costs and share services with our neighbours, we do not face a straight choice between funding the arts and funding core services. Until that grim day dawns, we in Kensington and Chelsea intend to go on investing in the economic, cohesive and intrinsic benefits of arts and culture.
Do you share my belief in the importance of supporting the arts?