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Michelle Donelan is the new Secretary of State for DCMS. David Hill has written an open letter on the pressing issues he thinks should be at the top of the Minister’s in-tray.


Stefan Rousseau

Dear Michelle,

Are you somebody who passionately engages with arts and culture, attends, participates and understands the vital role of the arts in our nation’s health and well-being? Or are you taking on this role simply as a career politician?  

I’m going to assume the former, and that you will want to implement this wish list of initiatives that will place the arts in the UK centre stage, where they belong, as important to this country’s people as education, health and social care – because they are intrinsic to all those key aspects of our life. 

My wish list is informed by a life-long career in performing arts, festivals and arts management. I have particularly been reflecting on the last twenty-five years, during which time I developed ArtReach into a major arts charity. 

So my question is, why during this same period from the Arts Council of Great Britain’s report The Glory of the Garden in 1984 to DCMS’s Cultural Recovery Fund in response to Covid in 2022  tha levelling up - in terms of funding and opportunity - has still not taken place? You could change this with simple, brave and innovative commitments such as these below.

Top priorities 

1. Really make the case (and I mean succeed in making the case) for better resourcing of the arts and culture. Your advocacy should mean that the Ministers for Education and for Health also become champions of the arts. 

Let’s have funding for arts on prescription (we know it makes good health sense) and a reversal of the crippling trend to remove arts subjects from the mainstream curriculum and from further and higher education. 

2. Facilitate the introduction of a tourism tax, and use the funds raised to implement levelling up in the funding for arts and culture. Rather than stripping funds from successful projects in London, raise the level of funding to that equivalent elsewhere. More resources are needed, not a levelling down redistribution.  

3. Similarly, new resources are needed to increase the volume of diverse arts and cultural activity. A focused investment in additional activity will bring a soaring increase in innovative, creative initiatives that support just those diverse artists and communities that have previously been unjustly denied access. Insist on new, targeted initiatives, don’t just use the old, tired format of redistribution. 

4. Be the catalyst for re-energising corporate engagement with the arts. Initiate a new version of the Arts and Business Pairing Scheme to motivate new business support and bring profile to arts and business partnerships.

5. The Lottery is about communities and people in communities. Let’s have a DCMS and national strategy to establish arts cafés and community arts initiatives in every neighbourhood and on every estate. 

6. Having taken the UK out of Europe, you must play your part to ensure your party commits an appropriate sum from the former European Union contribution to fund partnership initiatives equivalent to the Creative Europe model that we have lost. 

We need international collaborations and exchange, and if some of that money benefits partner organisations in other countries, there will be reciprocation. How much easier it will be for the UK to be third country partners in European funded projects if we are also initiating and encouraging European collaboration. 

At ArtReach we are completing our final pre-Brexit European collaboration, involving 12 partners in ten countries with a budget in excess of £2m. It is essential this kind of entrepreneurial cultural collaboration is able to continue. 

And as part of that European collaboration, you must resolve issues around work permits and visas, to enable easy transmigration of artists from all disciplines. Cross–fertilisation is critical for the UK to maintain its place at the forefront of artistic excellence and innovation. 

7. Remember Every Child Matters? It was published under a Labour Government, but surely you don’t deny its validity. As many life patterns and routes are set before the age of 5, you should use your new position to insist that our Music Education Hubs are funded to work with under 5s. Provide additional incentives to arts and cultural organisations that actively engage with parents and toddlers.

8. Above all, you need to make it a default understanding that arts and culture are funded at arm's length. Maintain that principle with the UK Arts Councils but also encourage and incentivise local authorities to set up and effectively fund cultural trusts. (You might also want to require them to give automatic rate rebates to all arts and cultural organisations, including visual artist studios, irrespective of charitable status.) 

And lastly, you must secure the ongoing glory of our independent broadcasting by cancelling the proposed privatisation of Channel 4 and ensuring that licence fee arrangements remain in place for the BBC as the next Charter is negotiated for the period from 2027.

Dear Secretary of State – realistically, I know my wish list is simplistic and over-optimistic. But simple and obvious initiatives can have profound impact. If you are a passionate engager with the arts and culture, you will know that what I’m saying makes sense.

Best wishes,

David Hill is Founding Director of ArtReach and author of 'ArtReach - 25 Years of Cultural Development'. 

'ArtReach – 25 Years of Cultural Development' is available to purchase online. 

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Photo of David Hill