Charles Saumarez Smith: 'Cultural institutions are good for any city's economy'

From a speech by the President of the Museums Association and the Director of the National Gallery given in London

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If one goes to Madrid, which I have done recently, then one discovers that the Spanish government is deeply interested in promoting and supporting and, it has to be said, funding its national cultural institutions. Having attracted the Thyssen collection to Madrid, the government has given it a purpose-built building nearly opposite the Prado. Rafael Moneo has designed a huge and potentially beautiful extension to the Prado to accommodate major international exhibitions.

I asked Gabriele Finaldi, the deputy director, how much it cost and he said he didn't know because it would be paid for by the government.

The Renia Sofia, which already occupies a huge building on museum mile, has just had a big extension, designed by the French architect, Jean Nouvel. Why are they doing this ? It is not simply for the love of art, but for reasons of straightforward national pride and because the Spanish government wants to attract foreign investment to Madrid and it wants to attract high spending cultural tourists to its capital city? If an American tourist is making a decision as to which European city to visit, there is now no reason for them to choose London. In fact, with recent terrorist activity, there are good reasons for them not to. Cultural institutions are what attract cultural tourists to this country.

This is not only an issue facing the capital city, as is evident if one thinks about new museum developments in Gothenburg or Oporto or Graz; or, for that matter, in Edinburgh or Newcastle or Walsall. What makes these cities worth visiting? It is, as much as anything, their new museums, promoted and supported and paid for by their national, regional and city governments and, in this country, made possible by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Arts Council.

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