Peter Hewitt: Putting a price on the nation's art

From a speech by the Chief Executive of Arts Council England to the Arts Marketing Association
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I can't remember a time in my career when the profile of the arts and interest in the arts was higher. In recent months, we had the discussion generated by Richard Florida's work and his book The Rise of the Creative Class in which he posits that artists are more important factors in creating economically vibrant cities than, say, money alone.

Then we had Charles Clarke and Tessa Jowell on the same public platform powerfully advocating the centrality of arts and creativity in education and society more generally. We had the buzz created around the Capital of Culture, and the huge opportunity not just to transform Liverpool but build on the positive platforms in all the other cities generated by the competition itself.

All of this would not have happened five, 10 years ago, maybe even 12 months ago and we must take advantage of it as we look forward to 2008 and, if we win the bid, the Olympic Games.

So why are the arts achieving such a high profile? Partly because of the power to contribute to a wide range of social agendas. I could talk about Newcastle/Gateshead and the Tyneside riverscape as an example of an area revitalised, indeed transformed, through cultural investment. And I could talk about projects in health promotion, crime reduction, community development and other social settings.

But let me say this. The contribution of the arts to such social or economic agendas is, in my view, wholly dependent on that same intrinsic power to effect change and to transform that I referred to earlier. Without one, you don't get the other. Regardless of where art is enjoyed, experienced or participated in, if the arts don't have those qualities, and that impact, then the experience is diluted, sterile and without impact.