Government risks “starving the young of arts” – ACE chair Liz Forgan

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Outgoing Arts Council England chair Liz Forgan has used her farewell speech to launch a heartfelt plea to education secretary Michael Gove not to rob the next generation of its “birthright” by leaving culture out of the national curriculum.

In her valedictory speech, entitled A Farewell to Arts and delivered at the British Museum this week, Forgan rounds specifically on Gove in a speech that was peppered with criticism of politicians and their relationships with the arts.

Having declared that “on the whole politicians are bad at culture”, Forgan then targeted the education secretary because “unlike most normal politicians, Michael Gove gets it… he really knows”, saying that he had delivered “the best speech I have ever heard” on cultural education.

“He perfectly understands the transforming power of the arts on young minds. Because it happened to him. And I focus on him because he is a rare politician with the determination and the brilliance to make a difference,” she added. “How can the man who spoke so brilliantly [about culture] leave all forms of culture out of the EBacc?”

Forgan called on Gove to “publish a proper, published speech officially setting out his belief in the importance of cultural education”, warning that by leaving culture out of his proposed core curriculum he had sent a message to schools that the arts were of “secondary importance”.

She added: “A clear insistence to teachers that culture has a serious place in his expectations of them would go a long way. A modest investment in the continuing and renewing of the culture of western civilisation would be a huge boost to struggling heads and young people who are being starved of the arts in their teenage years… [Otherwise] he simultaneously risks robbing a generation of its birthright and failing in the duty we all have to continue our culture”.

Elsewhere in her speech, Forgan, who is stepping down after four years in post to be replaced by Peter Bazalgette as ACE chair, said that despite increased efforts from ACE and the arts world, funding from philanthropy had yet to increase, and warned the government not to cut the arts budget further than it already has.

“A modest investment in the arts pays back in hard currency and tradeable assets – a global reputation for excellence and places that are attractive to people to live, work and invest in. So don’t slash the arts budget,”she said. “The saving is far too tiny to make any impact on the serious challenges in the national budget, and the damage is deep and lasting.”

Meanwhile, in a pointed comment to culture secretary Maria Miller and her predecessor Jeremy Hunt, Forgan added: “It should never be thought disloyal for a culture secretary or an arts council chair to beat the drum for funding for culture, even if it does annoy the chancellor.”