How do you solve a problem like Maria?

The Week in Arts: Advice for the new Culture Secretary, Stevie Wonder's confusion and why the Proms is the place for patriots.


Within a few minutes of the new Culture Secretary being appointed on Tuesday, the novelist Jeanette Winterson tweeted: "Maria Miller is new Culture Secretary. An economist who worked in marketing for Texaco. This govt has nothing but contempt for the arts."

I can't agree. Many in the arts world would have liked one of their own at the helm. But how much sense does that really make? The arts are broad. A painter or indeed a novelist would certainly understand the pain and pressure involved in completing a work of art, but would not necessarily possess any special gift for understanding and solving the difficulties of tax breaks for the British film industry. I don't mind whether or not the Culture Secretary has a background in the arts. What matters is that she is an advocate for the arts and that she listens to the arts world. There will be no shortage of people to give advice. And, in that spirit of generosity, let me be one of the first to help Ms Miller.

She will be pressed to announce a second year of the Cultural Olympiad. She should resist. In this heady summer it sounds like a good idea. By next year it will just feel rootless and expensive.

She does need to be an advocate for the arts, which isn't the same as opposing every cut. It means bringing culture into everyday discourse, not least political discourse. I trust she will drag the Prime Minister along to some theatre and opera and get those productions on to the front pages. She must also persuade the PM not to abolish the Department for Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) altogether, an idea that is seriously being considered, but would be a slap in the face for the arts. She might also suggest to him that the Culture Secretary might actually have some say in which arts companies are funded, rather than it all being decided by a quango, the Arts Council.

One way she could quickly make a name for herself is by doing what remarkably few if any of her predecessors have done, obvious as it seems to me. That is to make use of the fact that her portfolio includes the arts and media, and take some interest in the arts on television. The lack of classic drama on TV could be her starting point for her first speech.

The lack of classic drama on TV could be her starting point for her first speech.

That's enough to keep her busy for a week or two.

Meanwhile, farewell to Jeremy Hunt, who has been moved from the DCMS to take over as Secretary of State for Health. Or as it was almost universally reported, "promoted" to health. That is, no doubt, correct in the rankings round the Cabinet table. But I wonder if we shall ever read that a Cabinet minister has been "promoted" from some portfolio or other to be in overall charge of the nation's culture. After all, it sounds like a pretty big job to me.

Piano man's off key with a not so wonderful statement

Stevie Wonder has issued a clarification of a rather strange comment he made to a newspaper the other day. In reference to fellow musician Frank Ocean announcement that he was gay, Wonder said: "I think honestly, some people who think they're gay, they're confused. People can misconstrue closeness for love. People can feel connected, they bond. I'm not saying all [gay people are confused]. Some people have a desire to be with the same sex. But that's them."

His remarks led to comments on websites all over the world, and Wonder has now issued a statement, saying: "I'm sorry that my words about anyone feeling confused about their love were misunderstood. No one has been a greater advocate for the power of love in this world than I; both in my life and in my music. Clearly, love is love, between a man and a woman, a woman and a man, a woman and a woman and a man and a man. What I'm not confused about is the world needing much more love, no hate, no prejudice, no bigotry and more unity, peace and understanding. Period."

Well, almost period, Stevie. It would have been even better if the clarification had made clear that when you said some gay people were confused you were yourself confused.

Why the Proms is the place to settle the patriots' debate

The Olympics and Paralympics have provoked again the debate over the National Anthem, and whether it is sufficiently rousing. As one who thinks that Elgar's "Land of Hope and Glory" would be an ideal alternative, I look forward to hearing it tonight at the Last Night of the Proms. Among the many traditions in this evening's concert there will be the usual short speech by the conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

The Last Night is one of the few concerts where the conductor addresses the audience, and his words will be televised to millions. Instead of the welcoming words and odd joke, why doesn't he add a moment of controversy in introducing "Land of Hope and Glory" and suggest that it replace "God Save the Queen"?

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