ANOTHER VIEW : Art for all our sakes

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The Independent Online
William Waldegrave, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is reportedly trying to renege on a promise that money from the National Lottery will never replace existing government arts funding. It appears that he wants to replace such grants with endowments to major arts institutions. A leaked letter indicates that the Secretary of State for National Heritage, Virginia Bottomley is resisting this move.

Mrs Bottomley is right to take issue with the Treasury to ensure that lottery money is not used as a substitute for current government responsibilities. Government should be engaged in the arts (even at arm's length) and be committed to the notion of supporting the country's arts and culture. This commitment should be for their intrinsic value and also for the contribution they make to the country's health and vitality, and indeed its whole economy.

Mrs Bottomley said that the idea of using endowments to fund arts organisations was "not a runner", and I agree totally. Endowments give such poor value: in order to fund the current Arts Council portfolio, well over pounds 2.25bn, at a cautious estimate, would have to be invested - vastly more than the arts are likely to receive from this lottery even by the year 2000.

That estimate covers only those professional arts organisations currently funded by the council. Lottery funds are currently open to all organisations that need capital investment for arts activities, be they professional or amateur, large or small. It is vitally important that it should continue to be open to all arts organisations, and not only the selected few that currently receive government subsidy.

Endowments can hold no solution to the questions surrounding the funding of the arts. So far the council has given pounds 130m from the lottery funds to 265 organisations. This money is for projects ranging from playground sculptures for a primary school to a full-length feature film, from a new bus for a touring theatre company to a major renovation of an important London theatre. It is gradually making a real difference to communities all over the country. The money is active: it is generating other income from local authorities, business sponsorship and private donations and creating work not only in the arts, but also throughout the design and construction industries.

The Prime Minister made the promise last year that lottery funding would not replace existing government spending. The Government must stick to this promise and give the arts a well-earned chance to benefit from this new money, and give the people of this country the arts they deserve and are so good at making - a bequest for the generations of the next millennium.

The writer is chairman of the Arts Council of England.