People forget now that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport was created by one man for one man. John Major as prime minister created it for David Mellor, because Mellor was passionate about culture, media and sport. And for all his other foibles, that passion made Mellor the best culture secretary yet.
And that’s why I don’t go along with those in the arts world who believe that appointing a banker to be in charge of the arts is wrong per se. What counts is not the former occupation. The Culture Secretary doesn’t have to be a former artist any more than the Environment Secretary must be an ex-farmer or the Defence Secretary a retired soldier.
But he does need to have that passion, to show he cares about the arts and will be an advocate for the arts. That enthusiasm and empathy was lacking in Maria Miller, whose one significant speech on the subject urged the arts world to demonstrate their economic worth.
So what I would like to see Sajid Javid do is to be seen at arts events (and persuade his Cabinet colleagues to be seen at arts events) to champion the arts and Britain’s current international supremacy publicly, and to address the needs of audiences as well as artists.
He must be bold enough to investigate the insidious and iniquitous booking fees, bold enough to acknowledge that price puts off young people from so many art forms, bold enough to introduce ‘ pay what you can’ evenings or other forms of cheap tickets for young and new audiences.
He need not act on every complaint of cuts (some are simply not valid) but he must urgently look at redistributing some of the arts finance from London to the regions, and insist that all the London-based national companies tour to the taxpayers who fund them.
Lastly, I go back to David Mellor. I spoke to him on his first day in the new DCMS. He said he would be damned if he was going to spend three months of the year negotiating on behalf of the arts with the Treasury, and the other nine months having no say in how the money was spent. Yet that is still largely the case with an unelected quango, the Arts Council, deciding who gets the cash.
The challenge for Mr Javid is to actually be the minister. Make the decisions and be accountable, don’t leave them to a quango. And show passion for your portfolio. The arts world loves to be loved.Reuse content