Estelle Morris: There is something inherently good and valuable in art

From a speech by the Arts Minister at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature
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The Independent Online

I unashamedly want to treasure and support the best of our arts and culture. Our leading galleries and museums, writers and artists are world leaders and we should be proud of that. Why, when we've enjoyed living in a country that can offer us the National Gallery, the Royal Ballet or Bridgewater Hall, would we want to deny that excellence to future generations? We have a responsibility to make sure that excellence flourishes.

In many areas of our life though, there is a risk that we confuse excellence with élitism. Is it élitist to single out institutions as being excellent? Of course it isn't. But should more people have access to them? Of course they should.

That's why access policies are important. We have made progress. But our museums and galleries do have a responsibility to examine what they can do to remove artificial barriers. Whether it is how they arrange space, how they communicate, who they invite or simply how they describe the work. I have seen excellent practice in access, but there is still more to be done.

When I visited the National Gallery to see the Madonna of the Pinks, I also saw in a nearby room single parents from Waltham Forest modelling their own images as mother and child, inspired by what they had seen. Excellence and access side by side, neither dismissing the other.

But the art world is not the only one with responsibility on access. Many people who have art and creativity at the centre of their lives have had the good fortune to have learned how to value it from their earliest days. Access isn't just about opening the door a little wider. It is a greater challenge than that. It is about giving people the skills and confidence to be comfortable with art and to interpret it and enjoy it. It has to be learned, and it can be taught. It begins in those early years, and at school, and goes on throughout life.

We are not the first generation to try to improve access and we won't be the last. I want to be part of making the case for arts and creativity underpinning more of what we do. But neither will I forget that there is something inherently good and valuable in art and creativity in its own right, that needs no justification other than the pleasure and fulfilment it gives people.