Janet Street-Porter: Who cares what colour you are in the arts?

Instead of waffling about 'exclusion' David Lammy should be singing from the rooftops about British talent
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When Ruth Kelly talks about "new initiatives" or Mr Lammy starts mouthing off about the need for "interculturalism" in the arts I am reminded of the 1973 cult movie Westworld, written and directed by that master of futurism, Michael Crichton. In it Yul Brynner plays a realistic robot cowboy who eventually goes nuts and seeks revenge- exciting stuff which inspired Blade Runner and countless other fanciful journeys into the next century. Stanley Kubrick's 2001 was also about the notion that computers will soon take over from humans. And today I'm telling you it's already happening within the Labour Government. David Lammy is extraordinarily politically correct, using every occasion possible to promote what he sees as arrant injustices in the way black people are portrayed in the media, employed in the arts, and represented in the teaching of history in schools.

As far as he's concerned, British culture in general is "too white". On the Today programme on Tuesday morning, I was appalled that he used a tribute to civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks to say that it was a particularly appropriate occasion because it was the start of Black History month. Do we have Asian History month? Do we have Irish History month? Do we have Scottish or Welsh History months?

Mr Lammy, whose own rapid entry into politics via the safe Labour seat formerly held by the much-loved Bernie Grant, was given more than just a helping hand by the man who subsequently oversaw the robotic implant into his brain, our Prime Minister Tony Blair. Blair adores Lammy because he ticks all the right boxes; he's brainy, he's young, and best of all, he's black and on-message. There, I've said the unsayable.

But whereas Trevor Philips may have been accused in the past of toadying to new Labour, these days his justified criticism of the current obsession with multiculturalism has led to him being considered persona non grata. Mr Blair is nothing if not politically correct, and so the meteoric rise of Mr Lammy has seen him catapulted into a role for which he has no previous experience (and in this regard Mr Blair is following in the fine tradition of both Labour and Tory prime ministers in regarding the arts as a kind of training ground for the nice but worthy man or woman who is owed a favour but not too much power), that of Minister for Culture.

Mr Lammy launched Black History month with a speech at the British Museum this week in which he bemoaned the fact that most of our cultural institutions are run by white people, saying, "when I meet leaders of cultural organisations I am far too often the only black person in the room". He also added: "One of the barriers for potential black and ethnic minority visitors (to our cultural institutions) is a sense that 'that place is not for me' or 'I do not see anyone working who looks like me.'"

Of course Mr Lammy is perfectly correct when he says that in senior curatorial positions there are few people with black and brown skins. Already many of the major galleries in Britain are committed to programmes of opportunity and inclusion, including the Museums Association's diversity programme.

But it is completely patronising to think that black and ethnic minority young people do not visit a gallery because of the colour of the skin of those who work there. By emphasising background constantly, as Mr Lammy does, he misses a much better way to make a perfectly valid point about the need for the arts to attract and connect with as many Britons as possible. After all, it's our taxes that are paying for these places, no matter who our grandparents were.

Instead of waffling about "identity" and "feelings of exclusion", Mr Lammy should be singing from the rooftops about the huge wealth of artistic talent in this country that has made it right to the very top in every field.

There are role models, if that's what he wants, on the walls of every major gallery in the public and private sectors.

Let's just consider the visual arts - where young men and women from an astonishing variety of backgrounds are making work highly regarded all over the world, never mind in the deprived areas of Birmingham or Bradford. Take the Turner prize, won by Chris Ofili in 1998 and Steve McQueen in 1999. Isaac Julien, who has a wonderful exhibition on at the moment, was nominated in 2001, the extraordinary sculptor Yinka Shonibare in 2004. Sokari Douglas Camp was shortlisted for the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square. The British Council has just bought work by the young painter Hurvin Anderson. There's Shirazeh Houshiary, Vong Phaophanit, Runa Islam. The director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts is a brilliant writer called Ekow Eshun.

I could go on, but why bother. Listing all the talented people in the British art scene who come from racially diverse backgrounds is a pointless exercise.

These people didn't want to be tea ladies, gallery attendants, curators, or even politically correct government ministers. They wanted to be unique, not to compromise, to create work which would resonate and inspire everyone in our society. Go into the Tate Gallery and look at the joyful interaction between schoolkids and the Rachel Whiteread installation or Jim Lambie's colourful Turner prize room. Good art hits the spot in an instant, and it's got nothing to do with whether there are too many Jewish, male or white people running galleries. The best of British art talks directly and poignantly to all of us, in a way that sadly Mr Lammy cannot. And what about Nick Hytner's inspired choice of Adrian Lester to play Henry V at the National Theatre in 2003? The production was sold out and enthralled huge parties of schoolkids of every colour.

By constantly emphasising sections of the community who Mr Lammy imagines feel "left out", he ignores the fact that in all the arts, Britain is probably the most rich and culturally diverse place on the planet. And don't tell me that choosing people with different colour skins to run national galleries will stop young Asian and black men rioting in Birmingham. It won't.

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