The very reason I decided to undertake a tour of the regions when I became shadow culture minister was because I understood that Labour’s cultural legacy has spread far beyond the M25 and all that it encompasses.
The East Midlands is somewhere I know well and a region that is rich in history. There are actors, writers and poets, singers and songwriters, and thousands of people who have a real passion for the arts.
It is a tradition we must continue. Derby was also of particular interest to me politically. The Council in Derby made the decision to cut culture funding by 100%, which placed many arts organizations and other cultural agencies at risk of closures. It certainly meant a downsizing of exhibitions, educational reach and the process of widening audience engagement.
When a Theatre or museum is in financial difficulty, the danger is that they will resort to their natural base – putting on productions and exhibits that they know will attract the “usual customers.” That is to the detriment of the local community, audience engagement and fundamentally to the diversity that we enjoy in our art and creative sector.
What is all the more alarming is that the taxpayer has paid millions of pounds to create some of the very best facilities anywhere in the world, in places like Derby - where I visited the QUAD. It is a great example of a modern day cultural hub. There was a cinema, museum, art gallery and café shop. It was in a new, modern building, perfectly located and is becoming a landmark in Derby that deserves to become enshrined in the next chapter of the regions history.
Arts Council England has helped to keep the QUAD going with significant investment. They will need more of that in the coming years but there must also be a political will amongst councilors and the government, to recognize that these cuts are just not worth making. We risk eradicating a generation worth of culture for a quick-fix solution to George Osborne’s mis-management of our economy.
A strong tourism strategy that ensures we maximize the potential of the next ten years, requires attractions across every region. The Nottingham Contemporary has already acquired a regular base of tourist activity, with people visiting the region specifically to enjoy its contemporary art, international art forms, festivals and wonderful architecture.
Both the Quad and the Contemporary, are landmarks for culture in the East Midlands. They are part of the solution, not part of the problem. In order to achieve economic growth, we need to harness their potential so that our creative economy can continue to be amongst the very best in the world. I’ve always said; my intention is to nurture not neglect the Arts. My visit to Derby and Nottingham has only made me even more determined to do just that.