The state of the arts

The shadow Culture Secretary says a Tory government would cut funding for culture. Here, Arifa Akbar finds out what leading figures think about...
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Tony Hall, Chief executive, Royal Opera House

The big issue for me is how we light that creative spark that either goes on to make great art or to make someone want to become part of the creative economy.

Projects in schools and communities need to be long-term commitments, not just pilots that are never stuck with or consistently funded. So think long-term. To make a difference in finding talent, that takes time – a generation. The talent scout idea is really important, as is acting as a broker for schools to raise the general level of culture and arts.

Liz Forgan, Chair, Arts Council England

We all twitch in anticipation of a gruesome spring budget. The arts cannot just put its nose in the air and pretend the problem doesn't exist.

We must think radically about every penny that isn't on the stage, the stave or the canvas. We must trim admin sails and share back office services. We must find new partners. We must squeeze every cent of value out of the work we produce. We must smarten our marketing skills.

After decades repeating the message that the arts are useful, productive and economic superfoods, it is finally beginning to get through. But it will need to be made again and again.

Nicholas Serota, Director, Tate Galleries

From my perspective in the visual arts, there are a number of things worth fighting for. The right to engage with art and culture from the earliest age. For the last 15 years we have been fighting governments of different complexions to persuade them of this.

We also need to fight for the right to engage with and have access to art of our own time. That may seem very obvious but in the 20th century we managed to build less than a handful of centres dedicated to showing art of our time.

We need to fight for our culture to present itself to the wider world – again that may be obvious but prime ministers have taken planeloads of sports stars and celebrities with them to the Gulf and China but they don't take anyone from the arts. It's changing slowly: Tony Blair took one or two, and so did Gordon Brown.

We need to keep fighting for the right to air the arts on terrestrial TV as long as it remains free, the right for artists to keep making work even if it does not engender support from the public – not everyone shows at the RA; we need to cherish the arts to have freedom of expression, and over the next 10 years that's going to be challenging. There are forces that will seek to change and restrict the law.

Nicholas Hytner, Artistic director, National Theatre

The most important building block between artists, an institution and an audience is the institution's self-confidence, its bullishness about its own taste. Dutiful programming will be sniffed out by its potential audience; you need an absolute determination to identify the audience.

Your aim as far as you can, is to be open all hours. It gives a sense that the building – and the whole South Bank – is vibrant. Ten years ago, what was a concrete wasteland is now a huge civic amenity. This is partly down to the recognition that in the arts community, it's not the beginning and end with the rise and fall of the curtain.

We all have to be entrepreneurial. Seize commercial opportunities, not just to improve the balance sheets but to recognise if there is potential in something, to take it to as many people as possible. We now produce our own work in the West End.

Seize every digital opportunity. NT Live broadcasts in cinemas. It could have been a creative pig's ear, but I risked looking foolish and we show on nearly 100 screens worldwide.

Munira Mirza, London mayoral arts and culture adviser

This brave new world of the technological revolution – which allows us to watch theatre in our cinemas as art, create art online using digital technology, engage with audiences in new ways – is an extremely positive thing. Technology is a great aid to engage audiences to art, but never a substitute. The number of children learning musical instruments in a band will impact on whether they attend classical music concerts; it is handy to know something about the Bible or Ovid to get the most from Shakespeare's language. We will still need core understanding to appreciate the arts.

Jeremy Hunt, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture

A new Conservative government would be committed to a mixed economy for the arts; we'd have both state support and private giving.

I cannot promise to maintain government funding at the current levels. I would love to, but the reality is we face cuts whoever wins the election. I can promise that the arts will not be singled out but they will have to bear their share of the pain.

What we want to do is lay the foundations of an American philanthropy culture. And just as we could have a better culture of giving, we could have a better culture of asking, with major organisations building up their endowments as another pillar of income – America has £14bn-worth. Most organisations think that if they build endowments, their Treasury budget would be cut. We would offer five years of funding in return for a commitment to build up endowment, so develop a philanthropy culture.

Some say that what matters is getting the economy on its feet, sorting out the deficit and that the arts don't matter. That's fundamentally wrong. In a recession, people need art the most. People want things that explain their problems or help them escape them.