Thursday, 14 February 2008

Is the ‘cultural offer’ a good thing?

Simple answer, yes. Complicated answer, still yes. Yesterday the government announced a huge investment into ensuring young people have access to five hours of week of culture. There are a number of questions raised by this, not least how many hours of the week children are going to have left to shape for themselves after all that school and sports and culture.

But some of the reaction has reminded me how hard some people will work to find the empty bit of the glass. Philip Hensher in the Independent seems to thinks this is a plot by Gordon Brown to deny adults access to theatres. (They’re going to be full of pesky children, apparently.) John Humphreys gave Andy Burnham an unneccesarily hard time on the Today programme yesterday. I’m a bit puzzled, to be frank. (Not unusual.)

It seems fairly simple. For the sake of the arts, and the sake of our communities, we need to ensure every child has the chance to find out if the arts are what turns on the light bulb in their head. That multiplies the chances of new talent breaking through and giving us the diversity of input we need. This gives us the chance to build on several decades of work, most recently and significantly Creative Partnerships.

To make John Humphreys a bit less grumpy though, can I suggest one of the pilot schemes experiments with half an hour of compulsory listening to Radio 4, 3 or 7 according to taste? It is, after all, a ‘cultural offer’. (As Stephen Fry said, there are times Radio 4 is the best reason for living in Britain – though yesterday wasn’t one of them.)

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