London culture boss fears artistic exodus

City Hall at night. Photo: Garry Knight
City Hall at night. Photo: Garry Knight
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London is at risk of “extinguishing creativity” because of low wages and increased living costs, a senior London policy maker has claimed.

Justine Simons, head of culture for the Greater London Authority, also said that bad licensing decisions and cuts to funding risked driving out the city’s artistic community.

Speaking at a Policy Forum for London event, which looked at funding and access to the arts in the capital, Simons said: “London is now the biggest its been... and that has put a real pressure on housing. We all know how expensive it is. It means we are facing a crisis... which is compounded by low wages.”

She added: “We don’t want a city where there are no artists or creative people, but left to its own devices, London has a habit of extinguishing creativity.”

She highlighted the absurdity of regulations about busking in the capital, which saw the winners of London mayor Boris Johnson’s own busking competition arrested last year.

She also said that, while there were regulations to protect buildings of cultural heritage, such as theatres, nothing was in place to safeguard the "intangible” heritage.

“Music venues, known for sticky beer-covered floors rather than gilded arches... are the birthplace of British rock and roll. Today they provide a vital route into the industry, but with no protection we have seen loads of them close,” she said.

Simons admitted there were many new developments in London which include a “cultural element”, but added: “Isn’t the real trick to protect and nurture the authentic cultural story as part of the bigger vision?”

Speaking about funding for culture, Simons said that all of the arts pledges in the major political parties’ recent manifestos had been “slim” and warned this showed how far the arts had “slipped down the agenda”.

“I think we need to understand where the power and the potential can be in this city and how culture can play its full civic role,” she said, adding: “It’s about making sure culture is at the heart of an urban citizen in a way that it’s currently not. London is developing at an incredible rate and we need creative leaders at the table. London needs the imagination that grows from creative minds.”