50 years of arts policy and what have we learned?

On the 50th anniversary of Jennie Lee’s seminal publication on arts policy, Deborah Bull, Director, Cultural Partnerships at King’s College London writes about what has happened since. Follow her at @BullDeborah @CultureatKings


For anyone with an interest in the state of the arts, February 2015 is a significant anniversary: 50 years since the publication of Jennie Lee’s A Policy for the Arts – The First Steps. This 1965 White Paper represented a first in government approaches to this corner of policy-making and marked a turning point in the social history of the arts.

Jennie Lee was appointed Minister for the Arts by Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1964 – the first ever appointment of its kind in the UK. Initially, the post was located within the Ministry of Public Works, but before long it was transferred to the Department of Education and Science. It would be almost 30 years before John Major created a cabinet position with responsibility for culture, when he established the Department for National Heritage and appointed David Mellor to a role Mellor subsequently dubbed ‘Minister for Fun’.

Lee’s appointment came four years after the death of her husband, Aneurin Bevan. Their combined impact on the nation we know now was considerable: between the two of them, they gave us not only the first ever Arts Policy, but also the National Health Service and the Open University.

Once appointed, Lee got straight to work: the White Paper, published just one year into her role, set an agenda that placed education and outreach at the heart of arts policy and instigated a process of building (and rebuilding) that would rejuvenate concert halls, galleries and theatres around the country. The core of the White Paper, in practical terms, was this commitment to build a new infrastructure for the arts, pledging government money through the ‘Housing the Arts’ scheme, a fund that remained in place for decades.

The mid-60s were a period of optimism, progress and technological revolution. Increasing automation was giving people more leisure time and a new generation was challenging the status quo and blurring the lines between highbrow and lowbrow arts. The building of the New Towns was a visible indication of this changing world, and Lee’s belief was that these new towns needed culture, too. The philosophy was clear: ‘In any civilized community the arts and associated amenities, serious or comic, light or demanding, must occupy a central place.’

Lee’s view on the arts was nothing short of radical. Her desire to open up the (at the time) stuffy world of the arts for the benefit of everyone infuses the White Paper – the enjoyment of the arts, she says, should not be ‘remote from everyday life’. She laments the fact that some museums, art galleries and concert halls retained ‘a cheerless unwelcoming air that alienates all but the specialist and the dedicated’ and suggests the innovative idea of opening galleries outside normal office hours so that workers and school pupils might enjoy them, too.

The paper’s influence is still felt today. Earlier this year, for Culture at King’s College London, James Doeser undertook a review of arts policy designed to engage young people. His research made clear that the roots of every strategy, initiative or funding scheme over the half century that followed could be traced back to Lee. Her White Paper also enshrined the idea of the arms-length principle, still in place today. The document opens with the statement ‘No-one would wish state patronage to dictate taste or in any way restrict the liberty of even the most unorthodox and experimental of artists’.

The world has moved on but the challenges Lee was attempting to address persist today: the regions are under-served, the school curriculum is disconnected from the arts, emerging talent requires support, there is a need for better co-ordination of resources, the best must be made more widely available. ‘Too many working people have been conditioned by their education and environment to consider the best in music, painting, sculpture and literature outside their reach’, wrote Lee in 1965. Fifty years later, the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value reported that ‘high socio-economic background, university-level education and a professional occupation are still the most reliable predictors of high levels of engagement and participation in a wide range of cultural activities’. Lee warned that ‘the exclusion of so many for so long from the best of our cultural heritage can become as damaging to the privileged minority as to the under-privileged majority’. The Warwick Commission had the same message, that ‘the barriers and inequalities that prevent access to a rich cultural education and the opportunity to live a creative life are bad for business and bad for society’.

Of course, the White Paper did not address challenges and opportunities Lee could not have foreseen: digital, copyright and IP, diversity or devolution, for example. She’s spot on when she says that ‘if the eager and gifted are to feel as much at home in the north and west as in and near London, each region will require high points of artistic excellence’, but in other ways, history has proved her wrong. Manchester’s International Festival alone refutes her assertion that ‘no provincial centre can hope to rival London’s art treasures’, and while she identified art’s potential to ‘increase the quality of contemporary life’, there is no mention in the paper of the impact research has since revealed on issues like regeneration, health, well-being, social mobility and the economy.

We’ve come a long way since Jennie Lee’s First Steps, but it’s clear there is still some way to go. I’m optimistic: while I’m not naïve enough to think it’s top of their agenda, I don’t believe, as some commentators wrote in response to the Warwick publication, that ‘politicians just don’t care about culture’. Ministers are increasingly interested to understand the growing body of evidence about the impact of arts and culture across a range of government agendas. And I’m inspired by the appetite among artists and cultural organisations to work together to find new approaches and solutions, as evidenced by the remarkable growth of the What Next? movement and the establishment of the Creative Industries Federation to provide a single, unified voice for a single, joined-up sector.

After 7 May, when the election results are in, my hope is that the incoming government seizes this moment to re-imagine cultural policy for the 21st century, taking into account that growing body of evidence and addressing the challenges and opportunities of Britain today. As we celebrate this anniversary and the 1965 White Paper’s enduring legacy, all the indicators are that now is the time to take the next steps. Just one question nags: where in today’s political landscape is the Jennie Lee to take the lead?

Get Creative

Deborah Bull, Director, Cultural Partnerships at King’s College London, gave this speech at the BBC’s launch of Get Creative, a major year-long celebration of British arts, culture and creativity. Follow her at @BullDeborah @CultureatKings


History has tended to associate creativity with extraordinary people doing extraordinary things: From Leonardo da Vinci to Mozart, Einstein to Edith Piaf, Steve McQueen to Zaha Hadid.

But this focus on the exceptional perpetrates a myth: that creativity is a quality that’s reserved for people who are somehow ‘special’. It’s not: creativity is innate in us all. We’re born creative. Without this inborn creativity, we’d never be able to acquire the skills that get us up off all fours and propel us from infancy to adulthood.

Unfortunately, the more grown up we become, the more creativity is likely to be crowded out. Creativity depends on time and space – rare commodities in the adult world. Creativity means taking risks and being willing to look a bit foolish from time to time. It means finding time to play with ideas that may not, in the end, turn out to be any use at all – as adults, we anticipate outcomes based on past experiences, which means we close down alternative options. Creativity means starting out on journeys where the destination isn’t quite clear.

These are all the characteristics of creativity – and you’ll have noticed that none of them are things we normally associate with adult life: with targets and measurables, Gantt charts and KPIs, with the grown up world of the workplace.

Unfortunately, with some honourable exceptions, they’re also less and less the characteristics we associate with education. Evidence from the Warwick Commission published earlier this week confirmed what we all suspected: opportunities for creativity in the school curriculum continue to decline. In 2013 there were a significant number of pupils taking no cultural or creative subjects whatsoever at GCSE level. This hides an even darker truth: a significant number of young people had to make a life-defining choice between arts and sciences by the age of 14. That’s an age when doors should be opening, not closing.

The Warwick report was also a stark reminder that without access to culture and creativity through education, we are in danger of allowing a two-tier system, in which the most advantaged in social and economic terms are also the most likely to benefit from the full range of creative and cultural experiences.

_final_8174575_8174566So Get Creative feels more important than ever. Through Get Creative we want to inspire people to recognize the creativity that’s all around them and the ways in which their own everyday creativity plays a part in the nation’s creative life. We want to celebrate the creativity in us all and the many ways in which arts and culture inspire, harness and unleash our individual and collective creativity. And this is not only happening here in London. Thursday’s launch at Conway Hall was just one of 14 Get Creative launch events around the country today, coordinated by the wonderful Voluntary Arts and Fun Palaces. They ranged from a graffiti event in Cardiff to a mammoth paint by numbers in Cumbria.

And this is indicative of the vast array of professional and voluntary organisations that have responded to the call for action: from the traditional Music Forum in Scotland to the Heston Community School, at least 150 organisations up and down the country have committed to providing opportunities for people to Get Creative over the coming year. The BBC’s role is pivotal: as Tony Hall said, the BBC aims to provide everyone with access to the best. This makes it the ideal partner in this campaign and the ideal platform for a national conversation about creativity, about how we think and feel about arts and culture in our lives.

We hope that over this next year, Get Creative will make a real difference – and our ambition is to capture its impact through an integrated research programme, led by King’s College London, which will add to our understanding of what arts and creativity mean to Britain today.

Get Creative is a partnership with arts and cultural organisations throughout the UK because all the evidence shows that art has a powerful role to play in unlocking our innate creativity.

This doesn’t mean that creativity is a quality that’s only useful to art and artists, or that it’s something you only find in the theatre, on the dance floor, in the gallery or the recording studio. Creativity permeates our everyday existence.

Creativity is vital to us as individuals – in our personal development, in our ability to make the most of our own lives and in our capacity to understand and share in the lives of others.

Creativity is also central to our economy. Last year the UK was listed as number one in Europe in the Global Entrepreneurship Index, with creativity singled out as the crucial factor in our success. This level of creativity translates into real financial benefits: the Warwick Commission reported that in 2013 the Gross Value Added of the culture and creative sector was £76.9bn: that’s 5% of the UK economy.

Creativity is key to employability – the top 10 ‘in demand’ jobs in 2010 didn’t exist in 2004. 65% of school children today will find themselves employed in roles that haven’t been invented yet. Without creativity, how are young people going to imagine and then fulfil the jobs they’ll be occupying a decade from now?_final_8164888_8164877

And finally – as if all that wasn’t enough – creativity is crucial to our survival as a society. We need creativity to imagine the future and to prepare for it. It was creativity that invented the wheel, creativity that discovered penicillin and creativity that imagined the world wide web – and it will be creativity that unlocks the solutions to climate change, affordable healthcare and all the other global challenges we face.

Creativity is our common DNA. It binds us together across cultures, language, ethnicity and geographies. It’s a uniquely human resource – and what’s more, it’s the only resource that is infinite. One day the oil is going to run out. But creativity will be with us as long as we have breath in our bodies.

That’s why creativity matters, and that’s why we’re asking everyone to get behind this campaign to Get Creative.

The story of ‘Love’

Intern Lauren Hart, currently undertaking her MA in Christianity & the Arts at King’s College London, describes the curatorial process behind the ‘Love’ exhibition, a partnership between the Cultural Institute at King’s and the Jewish Museum London.


On Sunday 30 November 2014 I was presented with shards of glass that had been lovingly reassembled and placed within a blue plastic mould, which I happily received. This was the beginning of my internship on the Cultural Institute’s exhibition, ‘What does love mean to you?’. This is an exciting collaboration between the Jewish Museum London and the Department of Theology & Religious Studies at King’s College London. The item in question was a glass broken during a Jewish wedding ceremony, following which a family friend had carefully collected the remnants, placed them in a plastic cast, and given it to the newlyweds on return from their honeymoon. This thoughtful gift is a symbol not only of the love the couple felt for each other on their wedding day, but also the love they continue to share, and one of my favourite objects that has been loaned to the exhibition.

After all the crowd sourced items had been accepted, a curatorial board decided on which community pieces and museum-held articles sat well together. All of which led to a decision on what manner of display would best tell the ‘love story’ that each object holds within itself. It soon became clear that the variety of pieces will certainly create a rich and varied exhibition that will demand the viewer’s engagement. The show is made up of sculpture, art, film and personal objects of devotion.

Hopefully, this will highlight the power of community-curated exhibitions to open a two-way dialogue between the object of love, and the audience.

This is the first in a series of exhibitions: the first runs from January to April 2015; the second from May to August 2015; the third and final exhibition will run from September to December 2015. I look forward to seeing you there!


For more information, see jewishmuseum.org.uk/love