Coffee House Culture House Daily

Let’s not stop at Maria Miller. Let’s get rid of the Department of Culture completely

9 April 2014

10:20 AM

9 April 2014

10:20 AM

The arts world will not shed a tear at the news that Maria Miller has resigned. Though it was Jeremy Hunt who wielded the axe to the arts budget, it was Maria Miller who spearheaded a shift in philosophy in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport that arguably annoyed the luvvies even more than the cuts had done.

Breaking the only rule that the arts world still deem sacred, Miller demanded, in her only keynote arts speech last April, that culture ditched the art-for-art’s-sake argument for its existence and replace it with an art-for-the-economy’s-sake argument.

‘When times are tough and money is tight, our focus must be on culture’s economic impact,’ she said.

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This tilt to instrumentalism, to art having to prove itself useful as well as appealing to the ear, eye or brain, began under New Labour, when former culture secretary Chris Smith exhorted arts institutions to find stats (even if they didn’t strictly exist) to demonstrate that art was of use socially, psychologically or economically.

Art became a key part of regeneration schemes. Vast quantities of dodgy public art would be dumped on unsuspecting town centres and housing estates in the hope that X would become the Venice of the [insert compass point]. All of which in fact made grim areas even grimmer.

When the Tories got into power, the new culture secretary Jeremy Hunt quite rightly began the policy of disengagement, extracting the state from artistic decision making. But with this came economic disengagement too. Miller stalled this process. She wasn’t brave enough to make the case for cuts – a case that needed to be made. Instead she resurrected and amplified the New Labour agenda, making it crudely explicit that the government were now in the business of deciding how and why art should be made.

It betrayed an intellectual feebleness that few would forgive her for. She’d failed to grasp the fundamental point about art. The best art is that which triumphs as art. Art that attempts to triumph on other grounds – social, economic, political – is likely to fail. Whatever you thought of the cuts, everyone within the arts could agree on this. Which is why there was not a whisper of support for her from the arts community. And why there will be a huge sigh of relief that she’s gone.

But some of us will wonder why we have to stop here. The only way to prevent culturally illiterate politicians like Miller telling us how culture should look is to take government out of arts policy-making altogether. With Miller gone, David Cameron should regain the initiative and get rid of the DCMS completely. Culture is a negotiation between the people, the artists and the taste-makers. It has nothing to do with the likes of Miller.

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Show comments
  • HookesLaw

    Interesting that someone now comes up with another prejudice against Miller to prevent her getting a fair hearing in the media.

  • swatnan

    If you think that then, tell us where the Funding is to come from?
    The fact is all Art has to be subsidised by the State; to commercialise it is to prostitute it. We are all going to have plenty of leisure time on our hands in the future, and Art will lift us all.

  • Ruth Kerr
  • eoanthropus

    Quite right. Where do they think this is, East Germany?

  • HJ777

    I never understood the need for a “Culture Secretary” in the first place.

  • vvputout

    The DCMS has, of course, overseen the near collapse of the public libraries service.

    • MrVeryAngry

      More likely that’s down to Google, Kindle and smartphones…

    • HookesLaw

      The public library service has not ‘near collapse’ it has not come near collapsing. I am involved in our local library and it is working well. You are another idiot on here spouting ignorant rubbish.
      No doubt if Labour had not ruined the public finances then there would be loadsamoney for everything. As it is for instance, the NHS is going through a 20 billion efficiency drive because of the way labour wasted money.

      • vvputout

        I support the government’s austerity policies and have no difficulty in reconciling that support with membership of the executive of campaign against closures of libraries.

        I am not suggesting that more money should be provided. I am suggesting that the DCMS should be in the forefront of steps to improve the manner in which the service is provided. That means sharing service delivery across local authority boundaries and cutting the 151 English library authorities down to the same number as, say, police authorities. Such steps save money.

        Your library may be thriving. Many are not. Except in extremely prosperous areas running of libraries by volunteers is not a solution.

        Fortunately, the DCMS has been forced into conceding a review by William Sieghart and others. Hopefully this will put forward proposals which will modernise delivery of the service.

  • Sapporo

    Why not just rename it to describe its true intentions: The Dept of Cultural Marxism?

  • madasafish

    The only way to prevent culturally illiterate politicians like Miller telling us how culture should look is to take government out of arts policy-making altogether.

    I agree we should take politics out of culture.

    So ALL state subsidies for the arts should stop.

    There.. that should solve the problem… 🙂

    • dado_trunking

      Does that extend to static and moving arts installations such as white windmills, Richard B’s funding of space programmes and vessels with aircraft capability but without aircraft (surely ‘useless’, that)?
      I am all for it then.

  • Ruth Kerr

    “Culture is a negotiation between the people, the artists and the taste-makers”. If culture is entirely about art and artists, where do museums fit into this? Where do those organisation which hold the history of their local area through artefacts and ephemera fit? “Culture” is not just “art” and therefore isn’t always a negotiation between communities, artists and taste-makers. Artists often don’t come into the equation at all.

  • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

    The cultural life of our society should not be left to the whims of a handful of oligarchs and the PR teams of multinationals.

    One of the best things the last government did was make all museums and art galleries free to enter.

    • Ruth Kerr

      Um… they didn’t “make all museums and art galleries free to enter”.

      • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

        All those that receive government funding, which is what we were talking about.

        • Ruth Kerr

          It’s not quite as simple as that though is it? Lots of museums benefit from.Gov’t funding via DCMS, aren’t Nationals, and didn’t become free to visit. DCMS has an impact on many more museums than the ones it has regular funding arrangements with, so the article’s comments have wider application.

    • Kitty MLB

      Are you quite sure about that Sammy ?

    • Sapporo

      No, it was the one of the worst decisions. It centred art and culture firmly in Central London and degraded the rest of the Country as worthless. Free museums and art galleries are mostly enjoyed by wealthy middle-class Londoners and those from commuter towns and tourists. Effectively, it is, like the lottery, taking money from the working taxpayer to fund the interests of the middle-classes.
      Small museums across the Country are closing at record rates. Hundreds of towns and villages, that often celebrate local and historical arts and culture, have lost their museums, due to cuts in funding. Those that remain have to charge high admission fees to survive.
      This was a decision to reward and taken by the London dwelling, political elite and supported by their friends in the media.

      • Ruth Kerr

        Not enirely sure that degraded the rest of the Country as worthless. It was a financial measure the Gov’t at the time took which only applied to National Museums & Galleries in England (so not just museums and galleries in London, and not just London’s Nationals).
        It didn’t degrade the rest of the Country as worthless; the rest of England had great opportunities to access funding and, in some cases better than funding, support to achieve new work/more audiences etc. This was through Renaissance in the Regions. Renaissance was an incredible opportunity and did great things.
        Many museums across the UK *are* closing. Lots of museums are losing funding either because they are local authority museums or they receive some of their annual grants through local authorities. It’s incredibly difficult for local authorities to continue to fund museums in the face of their other, statutory commitments to their communities. In the last 20 – 25 years, we’ve seen most of the large County services make cuts of some kind or another that have reduced their service to a small number or even one venue. However not all “those that remain have to charge high admission fees to survive”; there are lots of small museums which are free or low admission. The challenge is to maintain them and ensure they survive rather than stagnate as organisations.
        As for free museums being mainly used by the middle classes – other than systematic postcode analysis and then demographic research into those postcodes, there’s no real way of finding that out. Unless the crass decision is made on the basis of people “look middle class” or “sound middle class”. There was certainly evidence that the London nationals didn’t increase their range of visitors when they became free; I remember the museum press reporting that there were more visits by existing visitors rather than new visitors.

        • Sapporo

          I’m unsure whether to agree with my view or not. Most of the national museums are located in Central London. As you know, for the last 20 years London has boomed, whilst the provinces have either stagnated or declined. Local museums provide an essential record of our working lives, our cultural history and identity. It is right they are subsidised to a certain extent, to educate future generations. However, they are being lost forever. This burden has fallen on many museums that record the contribution of working-class people to this Country. Simultaneously, the pretentious hobbies of the middle-classes (art galleries) are significantly subsidised by the State. This is the result of having a political/media, metropolitan elite that do not care about anyone outside of their narrow bubble.

          • Rhoda Klapp8

            You are allowed to go to London, aren’t you?

            • Ruth Kerr

              Think he’s referring to Sapporo’s comment re. regional museums.

            • Sapporo

              Actually, I am a Londoner, but also an Englishman, who cares about the rest of the Country, which I would like to see return to prosperity. This cannot happen while London acts like a sponge on the economy, as the centre of business, politics, media, culture, sport, arts, etc. No other major economy in the World has such a polarised economic output.

              • HookesLaw

                London is not acting as a sponge on the economy. it generates for the economy and there have been endless projects and schemes devolving activity to the regions.
                You pile one lump of bigotry and ignorance on top of another.

                • MrVeryAngry

                  Oh dear. London is one giant rent seeking conurbation that extracts in rent from the rest of the UK more than it contributes in taxes.

            • Emilia

              Depends where she lives. For those of us a long way north, a day trip is difficult but the cost of overnight accommodation makes it prohibitive.

          • MrVeryAngry

            It is right they are subsidised to a certain extent, to educate future generations Er, no. It isn’t. That subsidy can only come at the price of someone else’s loss, preventing them doing something that they would much prefer to do. The thinking you advocate stops people moving on and changing. It provides an excuse to wallow in what’s gone and is dead. If there are enthusiasts who want to carry on with this stuff, that’s fine. Let them. But not on my money which I have far better uses for.

            • Ruth Kerr

              We’re a long way from the Government deciding they will no longer fund education or resources for older people. In local government, Children’s Services working with schools and families, and Adult Services working with older people are growth areas. Museums work with all three of those audiences to provide well-being, to support the National Curriculum, to support healthy family interaction.
              Museum collections help us learn about and manage the environment, help us track movement in different species etc.
              These are just tip-of-the-iceberg examples.
              You can only “move on” if you know where you are and where you’ve been.
              What *should* our collective money be spent on?

              • MrVeryAngry

                Oh ho. Collectivist alert! What *should* our collective money be spent on? It is not our ‘collectivist’ money at all. it is my money, your money, someone else’s money.
                The government does not decide to fund, say, education. It decides how it can raise taxes and then decides how to spend it. It raises taxes to keep itself in business.

                • Ruth Kerr

                  Um… not entirely sure I agree so tricky to respond. I like the idea of living in a place which places importance on educating children and young people. I don’t have any myself, but I don’t want to live somewhere without education provision; those children and young people are the adults and decision-makers of the future and will at some point impact on me. So as long as I have to give money in taxes which go towards education, I’d like it to be an education which is effective. And to be effective, it has to accommodate different styles of learning. And the cultural sector (inc museums) are good at that.

                • MrVeryAngry

                  There has never ever been anywhere ever without ‘education provision’, ever. The question is why is it nationalised? I have children and Mrs VA was a teacher. Essentially they all attended what became ‘state indoctrination centres’ – (I went to an excellent grammar school in the early 60’s – wasted the opportunity, but that’s another story.) Some assume that education is a ‘merit good’ and that its funding by transfer payments is required. If so best to do that with universal vouchers. I don’t think it is a merit good at all, and that parents will always – in the main – push for the best for their own children.
                  All the rest of your post about ‘effective’ and ‘different style of learning’ has nothing whatsoever to do whether it is nationalised or not. In fact I have just been sitting with a client who is trying to set up a very much needed special school and is being continually frustrated by the self interested and clueless education bureaucracy.

                • Ruth Kerr

                  You’re right – ensuring different learning styles are accommodated in education is nothing to do with nationalised education. I suppose I was referring to the overall situation that exists currently in England with reference to the story, which is about culture.

            • HookesLaw

              You show what a narrow mind you have. Some might say a thick one, I could not possibly comment.

              • MrVeryAngry

                No. That’s right. Don’t. It’d likely be a waste everyone’s time and teach us nothing. Trundle off sonny.

            • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

              You benefit directly from living in a cultured and educated society.

              • MrVeryAngry

                Indeed I do. The question is, is that because of the state extracting money from me by coercion and handing it out to their favoured enterprises (not necessarily mine), or despite the state extracting money from me by coercion and handing it out to their favoured enterprises (not necessarily mine)? Clearly using coercion – people with badges and guns turn up if you defy the state by deciding that you want to spend your wealth your way – is not ‘civilised’. And why pray does nationalising culture and education guarantee that we are cultured and educated? You only have to look around a bit to see that that just isn’t so. In truth all this coercion and public control by bureaucrats and the level of tax theft just coarsens society. People will be a lot more civilised and peaceful when they have more to do with each other and their governments less.

                • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

                  True freedom isn’t possible for mortal beings that can be compelled by biological necessity. An abdication of responsibility by the democratic state doesn’t mean less coercion, it just means the coercion is done by others, and the ability of the oppressed to organise their one advantage, their numbers, is done away with.

                  If private philanthropy can solve all social ills, then you need to explain two evident inconsistencies. First, why did that system, which was by and large in effect in Britain at the start of the 20th century, end up so comprehensively rejected by the people who lived under it? Second, why do social problems still exist when our current elite are orders of magnitude richer than they were even thirty years ago?

                  Taxation isn’t theft, it’s the equilibrium price for civilisation.

                • MrVeryAngry

                  You’ve been reading Mein Kampf and 1984. Hint. They are cautions, not manuals.

                • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

                  Hint, Orwell was a democratic socialist and everything he wrote was aimed at furthering that cause.

                  And Mein Kampf is a cautionary tale? To whom? About what?

                  Standard Rightie tactic. When your ideology is challenged misquote Orwell and label someone a communist/fascist. It’s so very, very dull.

                • MrVeryAngry

                  can’t have ‘democratic socialism’. Democracy is a process. Socialism is an ideology. The demos could choose through the democratic process not to embrace socialism.
                  Mein Kampf is a ‘caution’.

                • Kaine

                  Democratic Socialism achieved via the democratic process, as opposed to via revolution.

                  And Mein Kampf was definitely not intended as a ‘caution’, not that it has anything to do with the matter.

          • Ruth Kerr

            Just had a quick count on my fingers (so not exactly scientific!) of National museums and galleries; I reckon there are about 15 in London and 11 in other parts of England (and that’s counting NML as one venue, which it isn’t).

            “for the last 20 years London has boomed, whilst the provinces have either stagnated or declined” – do you mean financially? If you mean culturally, I disagree, I think there are great cultural offers across the regions and some of them are within venues that opened within the last twenty years.
            It’s always really hard to look at funding for the regions and for London; London has a huge population and a huge number of visitors. So it’s a challenge to say “we want £X spend per head” on culture – is that resident population? visitor to the venue?

            • Sapporo

              So basic calculation: 15/26 = 58%. 8m/64m = 12.5%. That is a huge bias and subsidy to London. Even worse if you factor in relative wealth of London and its commuter towns vs the provinces. I’d like to see thriving, smaller museums across the Country, but then I am not a corporate socialist, unlike LibLabCon and their supporters/benefactors.

              • Ruth Kerr

                Hopefully the work ACE are doing at the moment will be addressing it; there were some “interesting” comments from various ACE folk last year… 🙂

          • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

            That you think that art is only for the middle classes is perhaps part of the problem.

      • HookesLaw

        Typical bee in the bonnet stuff.

      • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

        I don’t live in London, I live in Manchester, and cannot quantify the joy I have had from visits to Manchester Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, the People’s History Museum and the Whitworth Art Gallery. Knowing that, even when I didn’t have two quid to rub together, I could see some of the treasures of human civilisation, was a solace beyond words.

        • Emilia

          That only works for people who live in cities, sadly. We all pay taxes towards the upkeep of our national treasures but some of us have to travel a long and expensive way to see them.

          • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

            Which is one reason I favour exactly the sort of regional dispersal of art and cultural heritage that the article scoffs at.

          • Ruth Kerr

            I’m afraid ‘national treasures’ are likely to have permanent homes in cities and large towns; that’s where the venues with the money to care for them & maintain required security often is, though many small museums have one or two objects of key significance. But no museum tells your local area’s story like your local museum and they are everywhere, not just cities. Not sure why there’s a feeling that art & heritage need to be ‘dispersed’ across regions; they currently exist in regions and those regions often have visits from examples of art & heritage from elsewhere. Value is cultural as well as financial; art & heritage with a high financial value is challenging to take to small venues due to the security requirements to meet insurance and the environmental conditions required to satisfy the lending organisations. Art & heritage with a high cultural value is often just as enjoyable and even more easily found.

        • Ruth Kerr

          That’s a great post – I hope some of the people from those organisations see them as I imagine they would very much value how you value them.

    • RobertC

      Are they like some car parks, where you pay on exiting?

  • Colin56

    I’ve been arguing this for some time, along with other unnecessary govt departments. Inevitably, Dave has bottled it and appointed another nonentity to this post. Opportunity missed, business as usual, nothing to see here. Move along, everyone. Nauseating.

    • Nkaplan

      DCMS is not merely ‘unnecessary’ but positively harmful.

  • Gareth Milner

    If any department had to be compared to DOSAC of “The Thick of It” fame, it would be this one.

    • Colin56

      DfID also comes to mind. Both candidates for abolition.

  • Icebow

    Michael Gove, on Today this morning, praised Miller for her role in legalizing homosexual ‘marriage’. And he’s usually so sensible.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Yes he is, isn’t he? As on this occasion.

    • Kitty MLB

      Oh, he did that also did he, another reason for me to like the exceptional ,
      eccentric and endearing Mr Gove. and I am not a Cameron but a Right Wing Tory. And truly do not know what all the fuss is about homosexual marriage-
      but there you go- such as life.

      • Icebow

        Regardless of any law, there is no such thing as homosexual marriage, an anyway unnecessary notion when they had civil partnerships. I’m not greatly bothered by homosexuality in certain circumstances (e.g. public school, prison, navy, and the occasional impulsive experimental dalliance), but somehow I find a prospect of state-sanctified routine domestic sodomy somehow rather unedifying.

        • Kitty MLB

          Oh, your not bothered about homosexuality in certain circumstances, as long as they are within your ill conceived
          little section of society. You selection suggests that men
          are only homosexual because there are no women around
          in those particular situations. How preposterous and
          misguided. You word ‘ sodomy’ is also very iniquitous
          and disrespectful. Tell me is it more to everyone’s liking
          for a straight married man to abuse children and bash his
          children about just because he is a opposite gender to his wife.

          • HookesLaw

            You are too kind in your arguments.

        • HookesLaw

          What limits are there on hetrosexual marriage? Should the vicar ask the happy couple to fill out a tick list before they are allowed to sign the register?

          • Icebow

            At least vicars don’t have to be involved, yet.

        • Christopher Street

          Being working class, a pacifist and living in the 21st century I don’t have experience of the institutions you mention. I have found homosexuality in many places though, and I haven’t had look very hard.

      • Icebow

        [This post was replied to almost immediately, but that reply is labelled ‘pending’ for some reason.]

      • Emilia

        I don’t have a problem with gay marriage. But I do think it’s unfair that a minority should have a choice between marriage and civil partnership, which the majority does not have. How is that equality?

    • HookesLaw

      Good of you to admit the reason why the nutjobs do not like Miller.

    • ScaryBiscuits

      Michael Gove, sensible? Yes, he’s usually praised as one of just two ministers, along with IDS, who set the agenda for their department rather than the other way around. However, also like IDS, his changes are just tinkering at the edges whilst the socialist monolith remains fundamentally unchallenged.
      However, please don’t assume that even his relative sense of direction compared with the clueless, venal careerists that otherwise make up the cabinet makes him sensible. His classic was proclaiming how glad he was that the Conservatives hadn’t won the general election and how much better coalition was.

      • Icebow

        Well, I was merely going on his record with regard to education; in which field, more than one generation of children would seem to have been victims of attempted intellectual and moral sabotage by Leftist pseudodidacts.
        I have heard that IDS in private, along with Cameron. is rather haughty.

  • Baron

    Not a bad idea, Igor. You know a bunch of thugs, armed and ready to storm the building the DCMS ‘culture engineers’ occupy?

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