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May 7 / Simon

No hooray for the RA

Christopher Le Brun, the President of the Royal Academy is baffled. With the government’s emphasis ever more heavily on the arts discovering ways of fending for themselves, arts ministers seem to be blind to what he and his institution have been able to do, with not only no central government help but what seems to be deliberate shunning. What has the Royal Academy ever done, apart from managing to square the circle the government is urging the subsidised sector to, which is to attract large numbers of the paying public to appreciate art of the highest quality?
But then, according to an Arts Council report published today, the subsidised sector is not so bad at being entrepreneurial as the culture secretary appears to think. In her British Museum speech on April 24 – a speech which might have sounded a lot more pointed if it had been delivered at the Royal Academy – Maria Miller bemoaned the lack of evidence that the arts were contributing to the national economy sufficiently, and here we have what might be seen as a riposte, so soon after that speech has it come.
The report commissioned from the Centre for Economics and Business Research shows that in the last accountable year, 2011, arts and culture made up 0.4% of Gross Domestic Product, which compares with the less than 0.1% of government spending invested. Arts and culture as a sector had a turnover of £12.8 billion, and a gross value added (the economic measure of the value of what we make and sell) of £5.9 billion. It shows that arts and culture generate more per pound invested than the health, wholesale and retail, and professional and business services sectors. Tourists spent £856m a year on our culture that year, and culture was responsible for 0.45% of total UK employment and 0.48% in England. And while the UK economy as a whole has been consistently below output since 2008, in the cultural sector has actually grown.
With such evidence it is hard to see what Mrs Miller is getting at. She wants evidence of the arts’ value to the economy, here it is; she wants exemplars to show how culture can be attractive to a general public and remain true to art, look no further than Burlington House, Piccadilly. She says that she needs this armoury in order to argue the case for the arts in Cabinet, but just how hard does she intend to fight?
A profile of Christopher Le Brun appears in AI on May 10th.