Talking (or at least tweeting) up a storm with Culture Secretary Maria Miller

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Mark writes regularly for The Stage, including reviews from London and the regions, features and, since 2005, a daily online column.
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Exactly two weeks ago, at a gathering of artistic directors of regional English theatres held at the National, Danny Boyle pointed out:

Not one of those [artistic directors, including Hytner] has been even approached by this woman. That is outrageous. This is cultural life of our country. She is the minister of fucking culture. I mean, come on. It’s a disgrace: it is these artistic directors that are spending the taxpayers’ money. And she’s not met them. They are the people spending the money – she should be talking to them.

And The Guardian's Charlotte Higgins, in turn, has repeatedly tried to get answers from the DCMS about exactly whom Miller has actually met, writing on Monday:

It's a bizarre thing, this reluctance by the DCMS to answer a simple factual question, which is a matter of public interest. Presumably there is a feeling of nervousness that she hasn't been as active in the arts as in other parts of the portfolio. I think anyone can see that if you are dealing with culture, media, sport, equalities and women you might not be at the ballet every night. But it does seem reasonable to be allowed to know.

But last night, Maria Miller came out of hiding – to me! – and on Twitter, of all places.

It began when I tweeted yesterday's comments made by Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, that were reported in yesterday's Evening Standard about the dangers of cuts to the arts.

I had tweeted the following:

Comment 1:

Now Boris Johnson (@MayorOfLondon) speaks out against possibility of govt. arts cuts. Take note, @Maria_MillerMP! http://bit.ly/116wus4

Comment 2:

Boris Johnson (@MayorOfLondon): "People come to London for its arts & culture. Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”

Comment 3:

Boris Johnson (@MayorOfLondon): "Government largesse is not limitless but don’t choke off vital London industry which stimulates tourism."

Comment 4:

Something I never thought I'd write: @MayorOfLondon #BorisJohnsonActuallyTalksSense.

Comment 5:

But @Maria_MillerMP is clearly getting defensive: "Is £3billion of funding not considered enough? This is not an inconsiderable figure."

Comment 6:

But might it not be helpful for @Maria_MillerMP to actually hear that first hand & meet some of those figures in the arts world??!

A couple of hours after I posted these tweets, Maria Miller responded (she'd been at the Natural History Museum before that for the opening of its 'Treasures' exhibition, according to the tweet she posted about it calling it "truly remarkable, before she came back to Twitter and started talking to me), and we began a twitter conversation.
If you check her timeline, it is the first such conversation she's ever engaged in. In fact, the Minister has to date only sent a total of 127 tweets – and ten of them were to me last night.

It went like this:

Maria Miller:

@shentonstage I've met lots of people in arts world & will continue to do so, why would you think i haven't?

Me:

To @Maria_MillerMP: thank you for your response. Why won't you or your office tell Charlotte Higgins (@chiggi) who they are?

Maria Miller:

@shentonstage They'll be published, all meetings are! Unneccesary to give running list of tourism,culture,sport,media,equalities meetings...

Me:

To @Maria_MillerMP: Thank you, I look forward to seeing which of the national/regional artistic directors you've actually met in theatre.

Also me:

@Maria_MillerMP: Hope that you and your daughter enjoyed THE PROMISE. Hope you can make some promises to the arts world!

Maria Miller:

@shentonstage Yes thank you - we thought it was brilliant!

Me:

To @Maria_MillerMP: Perhaps you'd like to meet Josie Rourke, artistic director of @DonmarWarehouse. I could introduce you.

Maria Miller:

I'd like to meet Josie, Leveson looming at the moment though....

Me:

To @Maria_MillerMP: I realise your ministerial portfolio is rather large, but the arts world has small budgets, big mouths & high hopes!

Also me:

To @Maria_MillerMP: The arts world wants to engage with you & have the conversations! You need to start them. I can help.

Maria Miller:

@shentonstage I did start them a while ago, just not neccessarily in public arena! That doesn't make them less important or valuable.

Me:

To @Maria_MillerMP: But not one of the artistic directors at the @NationalTheatre on Nov. 15 had met you yet - inc. Hytner! They'd love to!

Maria Miller:

@ShentonStage On Funding, while we're chatting.. You know the 30% reduction in grant aid has been filled by £90 million from lottery reform

Me:

To @Maria_MillerMP: So is lottery another kind of sponsorship & subsidy now? Are we going to eventually abandon arts funding for it?

Also me:

To @Maria_MillerMP: The lottery, of course, is already ENTIRELY funded by the public - so the public's own purse is replacing government's!

Maria Miller:

Don't you thinking supporting the arts is a good use of some lottery money?! Lottery reform has meant more money for arts.

Me:

To Maria_MillerMP: It's great that lottery is being used, too, now to *supplement* funding - but shouldn't be INSTEAD of central funding.

Maria Miller:

@shentonstage Using your argument: The Government's purse is the public purse... It's all Taxpayer money.

Me:

To @Maria_MillerMP: Yep, but tax isn't voluntary (except for Starbucks/Amazon); we all have to pay it. The lottery is VOLUNTARY.

Also me:

To @Maria_MillerMP: For the arts to now become dependent on a 'fickle finger of fate' source of funding is dangerous.

And:

To @Maria_MillerMP: Should arts companies use their subsidies to buy lottery tickets???

Maria Miller:

@ShentonStage Thank you, I enjoyed our twitter chat & on that note Goodnight.

Me:

To @Maria_MillerMP: Thank you for talking tonight – we've spoken longer than you have to the artistic directors who met @NationalTheatre.

***

Both during and after the twitter conversation, I had some marvellous feedback. Here's a selection.

From Paul Miller (@pmiller67):, theatre director:

All should catch up with the public service @ShentonStage did us all earlier in his dialogue with @Maria_MillerMP. (No relation).

From Geoffrey Colman (@geoffreycolman), head of acting at Central School of Speech and Drama:

I'm going to restage the incredible dialogue between @ShentonStage & @maria_millermp tonight as a gritty verbatim play. it will need funding

From Jessica Swale (@jswale), artistic director of Red Handed Theatre Company:

@ShentonStage Good for you Mark for calling MPs to account- pretty dramatic evening here on twitter even if you weren't at the theatre!

From James Foster (@JamesEFoster), agent at Jeremy Brook Ltd:

 

After all evasiveness, love that @Maria_MillerMP finally engages with ubiquitous @ShentonStage! Couldn't be a better champion of our arts.

From Nick Holder (@Valetudocage), actor who has worked for both the National (most recently in London Road) and RSC (most recently The Taming of the Shrew):

@Maria_MillerMP @shentonstage "met lots of people in the Arts"? You do know that Rolf Harris doesn't count don't you?

5 Comments

  1. Curious how hysterical you are being. Danny Doyle’s ‘fucking’ culture sums it up. She’s the minister for culture, not minister for subsidised arts. Why do you think you should dictate her diary? She sounds like she is being quite reasonable. And by the way, Rolf Harris does count.

  2. This is what bugs me about the lottery – it was only set up to off-set the Government’s contributions towards charities and the arts. Do you know anybody who became a multi-millionaire by buying a ticket? No.

    Where do they get these ministers from? Makes you wonder if they only agree to take on the post for the sheer fact a broad amount of experience across Govt makes them a shoe-in for the top job – eventually.

  3. There was also some feedback via twitter saying that they thought what you did was pretty rubbish but you wouldn’t plaster that all over your blog now, would you?

  4. This disgraceful woman Miller is the Minister for Dismantling Culture. She is utterly clueless, and if there is a scandal about wasted money here, it’s the salary she’s being paid to do something in which she hasn’t the ability of a five-year-old.

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