Rhinegold Photo credit: Rosa Carbo-Mascarell/Creative Industries Federation
(l-r) CIF chief executive John Kampfner , BFI chief executive Amanda Nevill, and culture minister Matt Hancock

Andrew Green

Culture minister makes mostly positive first impression in keynote

2:31, 13th September 2016

‘Creative industries will be absolutely central to our post-Brexit future.’ No shortage of pep talk from Matt Hancock, the new minister of state for culture, communications and creative industries, at a meeting convened by the Creative Industries Federation on 9 September at the British Film Insititute. ‘The creative industries consistently outperform the rest of the economy,’ Hancock said.

The minister’s first address to the UK’s creative constituency at large since his appointment featured a standard post-EU referendum mantra: ‘We must define Brexit Britain as open and optimistic, gregarious and global.’ Reaction from classical music industry representatives present was nonetheless positive. Managing director of the Barbican Centre Sir Nicholas Kenyon found Hancock ‘really thoughtful and really persuasive. I agree wholeheartedly that the arts and creative industries will be absolutely central to the UK’s post-Brexit future. They’ll be more important than ever in defining our distinctive place in the world.’

The sole item of concrete reassurance post-referendum came via Hancock’s confirmation that recently enacted tax relief for orchestras, theatres and other creative sectors ‘will not be adversely affected by Brexit’. Good news for Timothy Walker, chief executive of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, who in more general terms found Hancock ‘very open and prepared to listen. He was willing to take questions and answer them in a candid and honest way,  understanding the issues and being prepared to grapple with them.’

Delivering an often light-touch address in an open-necked shirt, Hancock offered an outline examination of issues and objectives for the cultural life of the UK. His focus on the need to back success, widen access to culture and synthesise culture and digital technology was necessarily broad-brush. On access, for example, Hancock offered another well-worn political aspiration: ‘No one should be excluded from any of your industries because of their accent, their gender, or their postcode.’

For the likes of Mark Pemberton, director of the Association of British Orchestras, more precision will be needed. ‘There was barely any reference from the minister to public funding. It’s fine for those of us in the arts to say we back the idea of greater access to what we do, but more resources are needed. There was no mention of the role of local authorities. Yes, it’s great that we should develop the interplay between culture and the digital world, but that’s not necessarily easy to put into practice — in the area of rights, for example. It still has to be made to happen.’

Sally Manser, head of Royal Opera House Bridge (which seeks to ‘connect children and young people with great art and culture’)  found much to admire in Hancock’s speech, but was wary of too much faith being placed in digital technology as a route to cultural education. ‘Without weaving a web of mutually supportive cultural and education partners, the internet alone won’t increase and sustain engagement and participation.’ Manser also looked to see government investment in cultural education as more than ‘mainly a series of detached initiatives’.

Reservations also from the key area of artist management. Atholl Swainston-Harrison, chief executive of the International Artis Managers’ Association, said that the issue is not whether orchestras and musicians have ever had anything other than a desire to reach out to local communities and the wider world. ‘The point is rather that the more they’re empowered to do this, the better it will be for UK plc and for the enhancement of the “civilised society” which the minister refers to.’

The issue of access to culture sharpened during questions to the minister after his address, when the touchstone concern of the downgrading of the arts in the new English Baccalaureate reared its head. What of reports that, for example, school visits to cultural activities will be regarded as a distraction from the core curriculum? As with Brexit, it’s a question of ‘watch this space’.

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