May 8, 2013

Arts Council England fights back at Maria Miller


The government paid for that suit. And War Horse paid them back four times.

I reported last month on Culture Secretary Maria Miller’s troubling speech on making the arts economically viable. That day, she addressed the heads of the biggest arts organisations in Britain as though they had never before considered the economic impact of their endeavours. She pleaded with them to put economic growth as the centre of their actions, to make decisions that would make Britain GREAT.

And listen they did.

Now, in what can only be described as a giant ‘fuck you’ to Miller, in true governmental style Arts Council England has commissioned the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) to issue its very own report, entitled, ‘The contribution of the arts and culture to the national economy: An analysis of the macroeconomic contribution of the arts and culture and of some of their indirect contributions through spillover effects felt in the wider economy’. Ms Miller, this is the stuff dreams are made of.

That’s right, not only does the report investigate how much money the theatres, galleries and events themselves added to the national economy, but the numbers, statistics and graphs prove how this outpouring of the golden coins of arts cash spill over into other parts of the economy—like tourism, housing, and other creative industries. 

Hurrah! It’s official! Art = Cash!

The report is ‘the first comprehensive analysis to determine this value to the modern economy on a national scale’. It’s also 114 pages long, which should keep Miller busy for some time. Luckily for us, the Arts Council has published the main findings on their website, and the most important points are:

  • Arts and culture make up 0.4 per cent of GDP – a significant return on the less than 0.1 per cent of government spending invested in the sector
  • Arts and culture is a sector of significant scale with a turnover of £12.4 billion
  • Arts and culture generate more per pound invested than the health, wholesale and retail, and professional and business services sectors
  • The arts and culture sector provides 0.45 per cent of total UK employment and 0.48 per cent of total employment in England 
  • At least £856 million per annum of spending by tourists visiting the UK can be attributed directly to arts and culture
  • The economic contribution of the arts and cultural sector has grown since 2008, despite the UK economy as a whole remaining below its output level before the global financial crisis

So, the arts are a better investment of government money than the retail industry—an industry designed to make money. The arts are a better investment than the business services sectors—which include the banking and insurance industries and government itself. And, the arts are a better investment in our imaginations, our citizens and the education of our young people. That point isn’t on there, but Alan Davey, Chief Executive of Arts Council England has made it:

‘We fund arts and culture because it has a unique ability to fire our imaginations, to inspire and entertain us. The contribution culture makes to our quality of life, as a society and as individuals, will always be our primary concern.

‘But at a time when public finances are under such pressure, it is also right to examine all the benefits that investment in arts and culture can bring – and to consider how we can make the most effective use of that contribution.’

Whether this report will have any effect on George Osborne when he announces his spending review in June remains to be seen, but at least this will finally dispel the myth that we can’t afford the arts. In fact, we can’t afford to lose them.


Zeljka Marosevic is the former managing director of Melville House UK.