New Culture Secretary devotes first speech to arts

By Ben Miller | 19 May 2010
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A photo of a man in a suit giving a speech on a stage

(Above) Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt at The Roundhouse

The new Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has spoken of "a culture of giving and a culture of asking" and announced a 20-year strategy to protect the arts from "boom and bust public funding" in his first ministerial speech at the Roundhouse in London.

The Conservative MP admitted his debut address to a sector with "mixed memories of the previous Conservative government" was a "risky moment", but called his new role an "incredible privilege" and "incredibly exciting".

He suggested charitable donations and philanthropy as key new funding strands for the arts, pledged lengthier grant awards of at least five years for "high-performing organisations" and namechecked Grayson Perry, horror film The Ring, the acquisition of JG Ballard's archive by The British Library, Van Gogh, Josef Stalin and cabaret stars La Clique along the way.

A photo of a man in a suit being interviewed outside a theatre

Hunt reflected on his previous trip to The Roundhouse for a La Clique show

His first quote – "uneasy lies the head that wears the crown", from Shakespeare's Henry IV – was used to illustrate the sleepless nights he claims to have suffered while contemplating imminent government spending cuts.

He praised Culture Minister Ed Vaizey as "brilliant" and "equally passionate about our cultural sector", suggested Chancellor George Osborne had outlined "key financial reforms for helping the arts" and said David Cameron envisages the arts as "emblematic of a modern Conservative party".

He also gave an insight into some of his own evenings out before being appointed, confessing to having "tears running down my face" during Jez Butterworth's recent production of Jerusalem at London's Apollo Theatre and recalling his trip to see La Clique on his previous visit to the Roundhouse.

A photo of a man in a shirt at a festival campsite

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey was praised as "brilliant" by Hunt. Photo: vaizey.com

"When I was watching Jerusalem – or looking at Van Gogh and his Letters at the Royal Academy, or watching Carey Mulligan in An Education, or listening to Alfred Brendel's final performance at the Royal Festival Hall – I wasn't thinking about creative exports or leveraged investment," he declared.

"I was enjoying artistic excellence, art for art's sake. That is my starting point as Secretary of State for Culture."

The previous government's implementation of free admission to museums and galleries seems safe, with Hunt praising predecessor Chris Smith for introducing it, as well as crediting John Major for creating the DCMS and giving arts "a place at the top table".

A photo of a man dressed in a dress with female hair and a large bow tie on his head

Hunt quoted Grayson Perry's assertion that artists do "insanely difficult" things at the end of his speech

Eventually, though, Hunt discussed "the issue which I think is top of everyone's mind".

"There will be in-year cuts in the budget and a tough public spending settlement," he conceded, promising culture would "not be singled out as a soft target."

"For the investment in arts and culture made by the government we get a terrific bang for our buck.

"I can only promise that I intend to do the very best for culture and the arts in this country."

A photo of a balding man in a suit and glasses

Arts Council England boss Alan Davey called Hunt "a great man for the job"

Hunt's main legislation will reform the Lottery, increasing the share of proceeds going to arts, heritage and sport to 20% in a projected £100 million boost for arts and heritage, focussing funds solely on the voluntary and community sectors.

Gift Aid, which allows tax to be reclaimed on donations, will also be reformed alongside attempts to make the Acceptance-in-Lieu scheme available to benefactors before they die.

Appearing on Roundhouse Radio ahead of his speech, Hunt said he hoped arts planners weren’t worried about his appointment, but was "sure" they were concerned about cuts in a "very, very difficult climate."

"I don't want to underestimate the scale of the challenge," he added. "My real priority is to say we're in a nightmare situation, budgets are going to be cut, but how can we harness this situation and learn from it so that we never again have boom and bust in arts funding?

"The lesson from what's happened is that the safest arts and cultural organisations have a multiplicity of funding sources."

The department will take an "arms length" approach to funding decisions.

"I can't promise to protect the core of Britain's arts," he admitted.

"It's taxpayer’s money, so they expect as much as possible spent on culture to go on what they can enjoy and value, not bureaucracy and administration. That is going to be painful, but I think it has to be the starting point."

In an earlier interview with entertainment website The Stage, Vaizey said the quoted £66 million round of arts cuts were "way off the mark", aiming to make the saving from administrative measures rather than the frontline sector.

"I think it's a significant point that Jeremy has chosen to make his first speech on the arts, that he is reiterating his commitment to get an early settlement for the arts in the autumn spending round," he argued.

"What Jeremy has always said, which I think most people accept, is that while the arts won't be ring-fenced, they won't be singled out. I think that's an important message to get across."

Arts Council England Chief Executive Alan Davey welcomed Hunt.

"In his role as shadow culture secretary he has been a knowledgeable and passionate advocate for the arts and a thoughtful supporter of the work of the Arts Council," he said.

"Speaking up for the arts within government is a vital role and his commitment and enthusiasm make him a great man for the job.

"I look forward to building on the positive working relationship we have enjoyed with him."

Watch Jeremy Hunt's first keynote speech