Britain's cultural leaders have united to launch a manifesto to convince government of the central role played by the arts in the life of the country.
Figures including Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate, Nicholas Hytner from the National Theatre and Tony Hall from the Royal Opera House have put aside differences in the struggle for funding to present one vision of past successes and future potential.
Speaking together at the official publication of their document, Values and Vision: The Contribution of Culture, they stressed how much had been achieved thanks to greater investment in the arts under Labour in the past decade. The Arts Council of England budget, for instance, has risen from just under £190m in 1997 to £412m this year. And in a positive message in place of previous cries for help, they called on the Government to continue providing investment to satisfy a growing public demand.
They insisted that the joint plea was not a panicked response to fears of cuts in the forthcoming spending round or to fears that the arts will lose out because of spending on the Olympics. Instead, they cited the Olympics as "an exceptional opportunity to celebrate the health and vigour of our cultural sector".
Mr Hall, the Opera House's executive director, said the arts had shown that with increased investment they could deliver but there was a lot more that could be done. The creative economy was growing at 8 per cent a year - much faster than the rest of the economy - and in the South-east it rivalled financial services in scale. "The future is in the creative industries because it's something we're good at."
Museums, libraries and concert halls were "vast deposits of knowledge" and the raw material for future success, he said. "They're not some add-on but absolutely vital to the future of the creative economy on which our future will undoubtedly depend."
Mr Hall said the joint launch of the manifesto with unprecedented co-operation "marks a time when we stop being understated Brits and celebrate the fact that arts and culture in this country are world class".
Mr Hytner said the results since 1997 had been spectacular. "There has been an explosion of creativity and quality all over the country," he said.
"Our message is: look what can be done when you treat us properly. We simply don't want to be left behind."
More than twice as many people in Britain have visited a museum or gallery in the past year than in Italy, nearly half the population has used a public library and seven out of the top 10 UK visitor attractions are publicly funded museums or galleries.
Attendances are at their highest for a decade, with two thirds of the population attending at least one event in the past year. Since the opening of the Baltic Arts Centre in Gateshead, more than 80 per cent of residents believe that interest in the arts has increased.
While Mr Hall stressed the importance of culture to the economy, Mr Hytner made the argument for the intrinsic value of arts. "We believe that people's lives are immeasurably enriched by it," he said.
Quality of life had moved to the top of the political agenda which made it an appropriate time to be defending culture, he suggested. "It's an auspicious moment when politicians start talking about quality of life and start competing with each other about how they're going to improve it."
Sir Nicholas said both the Government and opposition parties had said they valued the arts. "We now need to give them the opportunity to give that real expression, not just in terms of money - and today is not about money. It's about the place of culture in our society as a whole."
A copy of the manifesto is being sent to Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, and her opposition counterparts.
Arts leaders expect to have talks with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor in coming months and stressed that Gordon Brown was sympathetic.
Among other figures at the launch were Kwame Kwei-Armah, the actor and playwright, and Chris Smith, the former culture secretary.
The cultural manifesto
"Our vision is that by 2015: Britain's position will be further secured as a world leader in the cultural field. Public participation in cultural activity will be one of this country's outstanding successes. More than 85 per cent of the adult population will attend, engage with or take part in a cultural event or activity each year. Ninety-five per cent of all young people will attend, engage with or take part in a cultural event or activity each year. Every schoolchild will go to a museum, library, archive or gallery or attend an arts events at least once a year.
Barriers to access, whether physical, social or educational, will be reduced and participation in cultural activity will be the norm.
Our audiences and workforces will be more diverse as the result of policies for the recruitment and training of staff, and for audience development."
'A landscape for the imagination'
"We want to put culture at the centre of government thinking and, more importantly, at the centre of our national life."
Tony Hall, executive director, Royal Opera House
"Art has always needed patronage and it has thrived most when there has been lots of it. There would have been no Sistine Chapel without the Medicis, no Wagner without King Ludwig of Bavaria, no Tate without the Treasury."
Nicholas Hytner, director, National Theatre
"A landscape for the imagination is as important as health, education and welfare."
Jude Kelly, artistic director, South Bank Centre
"We're a success story. We've managed to make a big difference over the last 10 years and we want to be able to continue."
Virginia Tandy, director, Manchester City Galleries
"The achievements of the last 10 years have been really quite extraordinary... but the job is less than half done."
Nicholas Serota, director, TateReuse content