Stats entertainment – arts and the economy

Culture secretary Maria Miller. Photo: Department for Culture, Media and Sport
Culture secretary Maria Miller. Photo: Department for Culture, Media and Sport

The timing is almost uncanny. Barely has Maria Miller’s challenge to the cultural community to put its earning power where its begging bowl is than Arts Council England, her own begging bowl at arm’s length, has come back with an answer.

ACE commissioned the Centre for Economics and Business Research (and you don’t get much beyond arm’s length than that) to come up with an analysis of the economic value of the public investment in the arts and culture for the latest accountable year, 2011, and they’ve published it today. It should give her a warm glow.

It shows that arts and culture make up 0.4% of Gross Domestic Product, which compares interestingly with the less than 0.1% of government spending invested in the sector.

Put that into the pounds, shillings and pence that she can bandy across the Cabinet table, it means arts and culture is a sector had a turnover of £12.4 billion in 2011, and even better as she fights for a reasonable settlement, a gross value added – the economic measure of the value of what we make and sell – of £5.9 billion.

So ACE chair Peter Bazalgette can go to her with his already familiar toothy grin and say that the arts and culture generate more per pound invested than the health, wholesale and retail, and professional and business services sectors.

And there are other numbers. She wanted to know if the arts were attracting the tourist dollar: it is, at a rate of £856 million a year. Is culture making work? For sure, 0.45% of total UK employment and 0.48% in England.

In fact, given that doleful year of 2008 as a watershed, while the UK economy as a whole has been consistently below output since then, in the cultural sector it’s actually grown.

This is not cake icing, or bells and whistles, or flashy book covers, it’s real earning, productive, industry and it will not be merely carelessness if the government doesn’t bring it into the consideration of its Industrial Strategy this spring, it will be blind stupidity. Or as Alan Davey puts it, more politely, “Not to do so is to ignore a key part of our economy and future prosperity”.

But then, here we go again with statistics. The government calls for them, and when they get them they remember where they stand in a range of three after lies and damned lies, but they don’t have to go just by that.

There’s something new on the public, a revolutionary idea of getting home the value of the arts: get the public to do it. It’s the bright idea of a group of arts leaders that calls itself What Next? and its chair of David Lan, the artistic director of the Young Vic.

This is not one of the haranguing groups that have pointless votes of no confidence in the Arts Council, as at a meeting, oddly enough, at the Young Vic four years ago.

What Next? has been going quietly for a couple of years, since the 30% cuts were announced, and rather than writing yet another series of letters to The Times and The Guardian, decided to do the unthinkable: ask the audience, talking to the public and channelling what they say into private discussions with ministers.

On April 29, 500 arts leaders came from around the country to the Palace Theatre in London for a day of seminars, talks and discussion aimed at spreading the word about the idea and identifying how they might work together as a sector in the future.

“It’s an experiment”, Lan says. “Someone called it a movement, but it’s a tone of voice. It’s an image of the world we want to live in. It’s a catalyst”.

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The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, London. Photo: Noel Foster