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It's time Culture Secretary Maria Miller did some real work in the arts

Plus: Arts grandees like Nicholas Hytner and Jude Kelly should fall out more often; and there's no time or space for the Tardis in Rory Kinnear's life
  • @davidlister1

Work experience. Fancy it? I'm talking to you, Maria Miller. Actually, the Culture Secretary doing work experience isn't such a fanciful notion. Her predecessor, Jeremy Hunt, is doing exactly that in his new job as Health Secretary. He told an interviewer that he spends one day a week, every week, doing work experience in a hospital – making beds, answering phones (not thankfully being passed the scalpel) and learning how the health service works from the inside out.

Well, if it's useful for the health service and the Health Secretary, then it must be useful for the arts and the Culture Secretary. Surely Maria Miller could take one day a week, just like Mr Hunt, to discover the truth about her portfolio, from the inside out.

So, what should she do? First, I would suggest she take a leaf out of Jeremy's work experience book and answer the phones. There's no better place to do that than a box office. Be right at the interface between the arts and the arts-goer. Learn what sort of information audiences want, what they really think of the venues and indeed the shows, and of course what they think about those booking fees that you can have the pleasure of defending during those phone conversations.

In subsequent weeks there is so much to choose from – usher, wig-maker, gallery warder, répétiteur, company manager, fund-raiser. There's enough to take you right up to the next election, Maria.

Of course, I'm sure that some will point out that those of us who write about the arts would also benefit from some work experience at the sharp end. I can't argue with that logic and, if my editor will give me time off, I will make the sacrifice and play opposite Helen Mirren in her next production. But Ms Miller's case is the more pressing. Be it backstage or front of house, work experience alongside arts professionals would give her so much more insight than the carefully choreographed visits to arts institutions that fill her diary.

This isn't a frivolous suggestion. The man nominally overseeing the nation's health is spending time making beds in a hospital and sitting on the switchboard to get a sense, albeit a very small sense, of what working in the health service is like. The woman nominally overseeing the nation's arts needs to get a sense of what working in the arts is really like. It's easily done. And the natives are famously friendly.

Arts grandees should fall out more often

It's interesting that the normally tight comradeship that binds arts grandees together has been broken by Sir Nicholas Hytner's attack on the Southbank Centre's redevelopment plans. Sir Nicholas, head of the National Theatre, says the planned redevelopment (currently on hold) would spoil views from his building. The Southbank's plans are, of course, championed by its artistic director Jude Kelly, Sir Nicholas's opposite number. I'm glad we are getting some plain speaking. Arts grandees don't have to sing from the same hymn sheet just because they are neighbours. Indeed, now that the estimable Sir Nicholas is speaking plainly about the institution next door, he might wish to sound off about my favourite bête noire, booking fees. The National Theatre admirably has no truck with them. The Southbank Centre, on the other hand, does impose booking fees. How can this difference of approach make any sense in two national arts venues bang next door to each other? Someone should speak out. Do it, Nick.

No time or space for the Tardis in Rory's life

That superb actor Rory Kinnear was bookies' favourite to be the new Dr Who until earlier this week, when he revealed in an interview in this paper that not only had he not been approached for the role, but he had never watched the programme. What, never? That sounds almost like a deprived childhood. No inclination to take a peek at a Dalek just once in his formative years? And in the last few weeks when all the papers were touting him as the man most likely to be in the Tardis, was he not tempted to spend half an hour finding out what they were all talking about? On the one hand it's commendable insouciance. On the other, it's quite a lack of curiosity.