Over the past decade the Government has perpetrated something of a con over the arts. The money going to enterprises has increased substantially.
The arts have undoubtedly flourished, as anyone who goes to the theatre or galleries knows. But most of this increase in funding has come not from central state coffers but the lottery, while little of the artistic flowering has been the result of direct encouragement from a succession of Culture Secretaries remarkable mostly for their disinterest in "elitist" pastimes.
Now the pain is being felt as the amount of lottery money going to the arts has been reduced in favour of the Olympics, as the recession and public expenditure cuts have inevitably pushed the arts aside as a dispensible luxury.
Yesterday's launch by the great and good in the arts of Cultural Capital: A Manifesto for the Future is thus both a bid for money but also a desperate plea for recognition of just how important this area of activity is for the community. Cutting state funding, argues the document, would make poor economic sense and risk denting Britain's "social and economic recovery" from recession.
"As the economy begins to move again," the authors declare somewhat sententiously, "the cultural sector is ready to contribute to the upturn," before adding, "the arts and heritage are on hand to help those who lost out in the recession: with jobs, training, skills, experience, hope."
One can appreciate the fear of artists of what may be coming up in terms of cuts over the coming years. One can also sympathise with their argument that the arts have something to say in a post-consumerist society (if indeed that is what we are getting). But it is a sad comment on the terms in which arts policy is discussed in this country that it has to be conducted on the basis of its economic value.
The arts matter because they contribute to the quality of life of a community and the growth in the imagination of the individual. State subsidy helps because it allows more activity, especially in the performing arts. They can exist without aid but it is hard for them to thrive without it. Their final justification rests on human value not economic growth. It's a mistake for them to try to sell themselves as anything else.