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Battle for Mayor of London: who’s best for the arts?

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As London prepares to elect a new mayor, Matthew Hemley, Georgia Snow and David Hutchison spoke to the candidates from the four major parties to find out their policies on the arts.

Zac Goldsmith – Conservative

Zac Goldsmith
Zac Goldsmith

As London mayor, how would you view the importance of the arts to the capital?

The creative industries are hugely important – they are worth £35 billion to the London economy directly and also pull in visitors who spend money across our entire economy. But I think the creative industries are important not only for their economic value but also for their cultural value. Human beings are creative, we are inquisitive about the world and we need art and music and plays and stories to relax. Access to affordable art is important.

What challenges do you think the arts are facing in London and what would you do to address them?

Without a doubt, the number one issue is rent. Our escalating housing crisis means that artists can’t afford to live in the city. That’s why my action plan for Greater London will deliver 50,000 homes a year, and protect transport investment to ensure artists can live locally and audiences spend less time in congestion and more time enjoying world-class productions.

Another result of the housing crisis is that we are seeing more and more creative spaces turned into offices or houses. London has lost 40% of its music venues over the past decade. So my action plan for Greater London will protect and increase creative space in London.

A second problem is the fact that local arts organisations are struggling as local councils find ways to save money. As mayor I want to do more to support the arts in every borough in London – for example, I am a big fan of [planned arts hub for east London] Olympicopolis.

What was the last play you saw?

My daughter’s Christmas pantomime. She is only two so it is hard to tell how much raw talent she has, if I am perfectly honest. But I enjoyed it.

Sadiq Khan – Labour

Sadiq Khan
Sadiq Khan

As London mayor, how would you view the importance of the arts to the capital?

There are few places on earth that can rival our city for its arts and culture. They help make London an amazing city to live in, and are a big draw to people from all over the world – both tourists and those looking to the city to work and set up businesses. As well as the arts being a creator of jobs, they bring enormous benefits to social cohesion and people’s well-being. They can help tackle many health problems, such as depression and isolation, and bring wider socio-economic benefits.

What challenges do you think the arts are facing in London and what would you do to address them?

The office of mayor has a crucial role to play in shaping London, supporting its vibrant cultural, artistic and creative side, and promoting it both here and abroad.

As Mayor of London, I would produce a cultural infrastructure plan for 2030 to identify what we need to sustain London’s future as a cultural capital. I’d set up Creative Enterprise Zones, providing dedicated small workspaces with live-in space so that creative industries are given extra support to flourish. I want to stop London losing small music venues and I will protect smaller theatres from being closed down because of noise complaints when new residential units are built near them.

I would also make sure hit shows in London are made more affordable through a ‘Love London’ discount card. This would be a pass that becomes easily recognisable across London and would unlock savings, discounts and special offers in shows, museums, galleries, exhibitions and concerts.

What was the last thing you saw at the theatre?

I’ve been lucky to visit both the Lyric in Hammersmith and the Dominion earlier this month, and it was great to hear about the fantastic work they’re doing to introduce young Londoners to arts and culture. Most recently I saw The Nutcracker at the English National Ballet.

Caroline Pidgeon – Liberal Democrats

Caroline Pidgeon
Caroline Pidgeon

As London mayor, how would you view the importance of the arts to the capital?

London is one of the great cultural capitals of the world. Our theatres, museums, galleries and sporting venues play a vital role in city life and help make London a vibrant and attractive place in which to live, work, visit and play. These assets support the creativity, diversity and spirit of innovation that typifies London. They also underpin many of the creative industries that thrive in London – fashion and design, communications and publishing, software and games. In short, the arts are one of the jewels in the crown of London and need protecting, nurturing and promoting.

What challenges do you think the arts are facing and what would you do to address them?

Liberal Democrats want to improve the choice and accessibility of recreational facilities for all residents and visitors. We also wish to ensure that London’s cultural industries workforce across theatre, film, television and radio reflects the diversity of the communities it serves, which it has conspicuously failed to do under both Labour and Conservative mayors. I would maintain an active events programme, led by the Greater London Authority in coordination with partners, celebrating the diverse culture and vibrant communities of London and work with boroughs and others to highlight the economic and social benefits that cultural activities bring to local communities. I’d also promote access for all Londoners, not just those living near the great central London facilities, and encourage greater attendance at borough and fringe theatres, not just the established central venues.

To encourage greater diversity in cultural industries we would also discuss with the national houses, such as the Royal Opera House and National Theatre, and the major West End theatre employers how they plan to improve the diversity of their workforces, both performers and backstage, including the issue of integrated casting.

What was the last thing you saw at the theatre?

Sadly I haven’t been able to get to the theatre since the mayoral campaign really got going back in January. The Old Vic is probably my favourite theatre in London and the last production I saw there was the brilliant The Master Builder.

Sian Berry – Green Party

Sian Berry

As London mayor, how would you view the importance of the arts to the capital?

The housing, transport and air pollution crises in our city are things I’m asked about every day. But despite these crises, thanks at least partly to our world-leading arts and cultural scene, London remains a dynamic, exhilarating place that draws people from all over the world. I believe the mayor should take an active interest in helping and protecting our arts and culture because they are part of what makes a city worth living in.

What challenges do you think the arts are facing in London and what would you do to address them?

The West End and major players such as the Royal Opera House continue to earn global admiration. But despite great initiatives such as live-streaming to cinemas, those venues remain largely off limits to most Londoners. For people on ordinary incomes, the premises that matter more are fringe theatres, music venues and local arts centres – many of which are currently battling to stay open in the face of rising rents or predatory property developers. If I’m elected mayor I will rewrite the planning rules to protect fringe and arts venues.

What was the last thing you saw at the theatre?

The London campaign has taken up virtually all my time for a year now and the last theatre I saw before that was a programme of shorts at the Camden People’s Theatre. I went with a friend, whose brother’s company had created one of the plays. I hardly ever go to the West End, which is a big shame, but most tickets are out of my budget and I can’t plan ahead enough to grab the discount ones from the National Theatre.

Additional reporting by Georgia Snow and David Hutchison

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