The 23 recommendations of Sir Brian McMaster’s report, ‘Supporting Excellence in the Arts’, published by the DCMS earlier this month, have been wholeheartedly accepted by Culture Secretary James Purnell. Key recommendations include placing artists at the centre of governance in arts organisations and opening arts events to the public free of charge for a week each year. The report also calls for a greater emphasis on diverse work that more fully represents Britain in the 21st century, and recommends a more extensive and strategic approach to touring work. Speaking to ArtsProfessional, a DCMS spokesman made it clear that “the Government and Secretary of State have accepted the broad thrust” of the report. Of another much-highlighted recommendation, suggesting ten-year funding packages for ‘the ten organisations with the most innovative ambition’, he added that “it is now our policy that it should happen”, but conceded that the Government would want to “go forward by consensus”. He also made it clear that the ‘free week’ would be something that the Government hopes would attract sponsorship at various levels. Purnell has said that he looks forward to “considering each of the recommendations in detail”.
A broad welcome has been accorded to the report by ACE Chief Executive Peter Hewitt, who has said that placing ‘excellence at the heart of public funding for the arts’ runs parallel with the mission of Arts Council England. Other responses, though welcoming, are more qualified in the wake of the recent ACE funding review (see p1). Christine Payne, General Secretary of Equity, has said that the theatre union “welcomes the move away from the crude box ticking of the past ten years… and welcomes McMaster’s proposal that theatre should be judged on the excellence of its art”. However, “the theatre community has no confidence that the Arts Council, as it currently operates, is fit to judge what is excellent in theatre.” Ed Vaizey, Shadow Culture Minister, points to “serious concern about the suggestion that the Arts Council should have a say in the recruitment processes of arts organisations”, objecting that top-down direction will not achieve excellence or innovation.
ArtsProfessional will be publishing a series of considered responses to the McMaster report from key figures in the arts sector. Next issue: Sue Hoyle on funding issues and Alison Edbury on audience development.