Prime Minister Tony Blair Celebrates Arts Gains In Last Ten Years

By Jon Pratty | 06 March 2007
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photo shows a man in a dark suit sitting on a stage, next to him, an empty chair

The Prime Minister at Tate Modern © 24 Hour Museum

Prime Minister Tony Blair looked back at what he sees as ten years of success at the heart of UK arts and culture at Tate Modern on March 6 2007.

"Museums feel different now - they are confident, assertive, creative and alive," said the Prime Minister, speaking to an audience of invited museum and gallery directors, curators and other arts leaders.

photo shows a man in a dark suit standing up at a dais making a speech, holding the dais with both hands

Labour arts policy "has not been about putting bums on seats at the expense of quality," said the Prime Minister. © 24 Hour Museum

Among other highpoints, Blair lauded free admission to galleries and museums as one of the key drivers to the success of the arts: "I remember a conversation with Chris Smith (the first Arts Minister in the 1997 cabinet) about free entry. When we debated it, no-one could prove that it would work - but we went with it and it's been remarkable."

According to government figures, it is thought free admission to museums and galleries has seen an 83 per cent leap in attendances. In addition to that, government spending in the arts more than doubled since 1997 from £186m to £412m.

A more consistent approach to culture and creativity has benefitted the sector, said Mr Blair. Some present at the reception at Tate Modern felt there was a message about future arts funding policy. "We've avoided boom and bust in the economy and don't intend to introduce it into arts and culture," said the Prime Minister.

"The last ten years of success were not an accident, and the next ten years the way the cultural sector develops is crucial to the way the country develops."

shows a photo of a man speaking at a dais with a second man sitting beside him on a seat

Sir Nicholas Serota responded to the PM's speech. © 24 Hour Museum

"Tony's commitment not to return to the stop and start economy in the arts is crucial," said Tate chief Sir Nicholas Serota in response.

"What will be interesting now is how the government can help the cultural sector develop a digital future for culture that will engage new audiences online," said Jane Finnis, Director of the 24 Hour Museum, who was present at Tate to hear the Prime Minister.

"We need to support the sector to be bold and seize the initiative digitally, pushing UK culture into the heart of the web world, supporting the Cultural Olympiad."

Read the Culture and Creativity in 2007 report, launched at Tate Modern by the Prime Minster, Tony Blair.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned: