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Arts ‘industrial revolution’ could unlock ‘brave new world’, says Lord Bragg

An “industrial revolution” in the arts would realise “enormous rewards”, broadcaster and author Melvyn Bragg has told Parliament.

While insisting the arts were not “the cherry on the cake” but the cake itself, the Labour peer warned the industry was “dangerously patchy and punching way below its weight”.

Lord Bragg argued bolstering the cutback-hit sector could create “a brave new world”.

He made his comments as he opened a debate in the House of Lords, which will feature as part of a documentary being made by Sky Arts to be aired later this year.

Lord Bragg told peers: “The creative arts generate more revenue that the life sciences, aerospace and the construction industries combined.”

But arguing it could do far more, he said: “First of all, the arts industry needs a radical overhaul. At present it is dangerously patchy and punching way below its weight.

“The arts are not the cherry on the cake, they are the cake.”

He added: “We have the skills, what we need is the vision and the will. We need to think of the arts as an industry, a new industry, which it is.”

Warning over “sleepwalking into permanent mediocrity”, Lord Bragg added: “What enormous rewards could follow from building up the arts.

“Why don’t we have an industrial revolution for the arts, it’s possible.”

He went on: “The evidence of the connection between the arts and intellectual health has now been conclusively made. We have scientific proof that art exercises the imagination and feeds us in positive, unique and lasting ways. We can’t afford to ignore this.

“We can no longer just go on to cut, stint, cancel, slash.

“If we are to bring up generations whose minds and feelings are moulded by the best work, good teachers, multiple opportunities, then we could indeed make a brave new world, why not and why not start now?”

Tory former culture minister Lord Vaizey of Didcot, who is a trustee of Tate galleries, pressed the need for increased funding for the arts.

He said: “I take a very simple view that the arts budget is effectively a rounding error in terms of what Government spends across the piece. It could be increased substantially of the arts, insignificantly for what Government spends overall and it would make a difference.”

The Conservative peer argued the world-leading arts industry had a huge impact across a range of areas from health and education to criminal justice and soft power.

Composer and broadcaster Lord Berkeley of Knighton said: “We find ourselves currently in the midst of a crisis. A crisis largely brought about by ill-considered decisions whose ramifications reach deep into the cultural fabric of our society.

COURTS Kinnock
Former Labour leader Lord Kinnock spoke in the upper chamber for the first time since 2019 (Barry Batchelor/PA)

“Should we make a special case for the arts? Yes, on so many levels – the return they bring to our economy, to our wellbeing and to our standing in the world.”

Labour former leader Lord Kinnock, speaking in the upper chamber for the first time since 2019 having been caring for his late wife Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead, stressed the need for public finance in the arts.

He added: “Of course they need funding, and philanthropy is, therefore, invaluable, but society, certainly civilised society, should not depend upon charitable largesse, especially when public investment in the arts magnifies and enables private investment.

“Public funding for creativity is, therefore, essential for the human spirit and for community cohesion and pride but crucially the arts are also an economic cornucopia.”

Highlighting cutbacks, he said: “The effects on creative activities have been severe and in some cases ruinous. They impoverish lives, communities and the future. They inhibit individual opportunity, stunt aspiration, diminish global Britain.

“Despite that, so many creative people still valiantly respond to the adversity of cuts as a challenge to fresh inventiveness. They give so much more that they take.

“I wish them well and I want them to know that while they are certainly underfunded, they are valued and nor forgotten.”

Responding to the debate, culture minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said: “While the economic and social impact of the arts are vital, the reason that I am personally proud of the way that this Government supports the arts and culture is because they are an essential part of what makes life worth living.

“Governments should be confident in helping people experience that.”

He added: “I don’t think we are in any disagreement about the inherent power, economic value or social impact of arts and culture in the UK.”