Wednesday, 16 April 2014

An open letter to our new culture secretary, Sajid Javid MP

Dear Sajid Javid MP,

Firstly may I congratulate you on your appointment as culture secretary following the resignation of Maria Miller. You come to your post at a very important time, and as such, I have a few requests.

Firstly, unlike Ms Miller, I urge you to actually go and watch theatre and entertainment. The only way you get to experience the unique talent our country creates is by getting out there and watching it for yourself. Please do not send your secretary, PA, best mate Brian from Croydon, or anyone else whose judgement you trust. You are the culture secretary, and you should witness the excellence that is being produced.

Then, after experiencing first-hand that our country is the world leader in creating and developing theatre, you will realise how important the funding of this art is. Without the essential support of local authorities and the government, the future of theatre in our country will disappear. Indeed it already is. You are the man who can change this ridiculous pattern – and either help reinstate support to those suffering theatres who do so much for their local communities, or at least review the way the cuts have affected these vital institutions. Every day we hear MPs talking about the need for more effort going into building the strength and value of local communities – and financially supporting theatres is one way that can instantly help with this. A theatre is a community – a family – a place where people go to entertain, and to be entertained. It is a necessity.  And it is also a creative space where communities get to rehearse, practice, perform, and create. Indeed, with even more local youth centres being forced to close, the theatre and amateur groups that are connected with theatres allow another place for these youngsters to go and socialise.

My dear Javid – I beg that you do not, like Ms Miller, try to appease the arts by giving us the chance to make an economic case for the sector. Art needs funding, it needs finances – and in return offers rewards in other ways.

As i’ve already stated, as a consequence of these arts funding cuts, creativity is suffering and theatres are closing (we only have to look at the Brewhouse Theatre debacle last year – which luckily seems to have been resolved for the present  - ). Recently many shows are even closing before they have even opened. We are known to have the best actors, directors and writers in the world – most of this talent beginning in subsidised theatre. This new talent and work will end if everything is reliant on profit. Who will take a chance on new writers and talent when the pressure of profit is so overwhelming? No-one. The whole system as we know it needs to alter. I know the government encourages theatres to try and cover the cuts by finding private funders and philanthropists – but this is difficult. Especially for those regional subsidised theatres – in fact a recent report from Arts and Businesses showed that donations in London grew by 10% - but for the rest of England it dropped 5.3%. Even more worrying is that 90% of nationwide individual giving goes to London, leaving only 10% for the rest of the UK. So for these arts organisations outside of London they have to spend all of their time and resources trying to get money elsewhere – time which would otherwise be spent on creating valuable work for their local communities.

One of the main problems is that arts are not considered a vital part of our lives – and are constantly labelled inferior against sport, education and healthcare. Indeed it is vital for the health of the nation to be cultured. Art provides a communication, and a response to human nature that brings us all closer together. It is a major part of our culture – and if we don’t start supporting it now, our children will solely think of theatre as a part of history.

When did you last hear a politician speak passionately about the arts? What we need are politicians who affirm them - and not solely worry about the expense of them. The general public recognise its value – so why can’t our esteemed politicians?  So, Mr Javid, I am asking you to fight for the arts and make sure they are not disposed of as an unnecessary expense. Our actors and directors are international ambassadors – and the art they produce is an international commodity. And without the support of an understanding government our place in the world as leading creators of arts and artists will fall.

What we need is someone like Jenny Lee  - who was Arts minister from 1964 – 1970. She was, like Maria Miller a female Labour Minister, but unlike Ms Miller, Jenny was admired and loved by the arts community. Lee was a passionate supporter of the building of the National Theatre. She believed there was a danger in politicising funding for theatre as this leads to what she saw as stagnant art.

Jenny, being a Socialist, recognised the Social value of Theatre unlike current politicians who see the cost of everything but not the value . She showed that politicians actually can be good news for the arts – if they understand and have a passion about them. And that is what we need again. Someone who wants to save arts, and not merely squeeze every ounce of profit out of it. Hopefully our new culture secretary will have some of this lost passion.

Already this year there has been good news for theatre and the performing arts because of the proposed tax relief.  This 20 – 25% relief will hugely help our industry – and I ask you Mr Javid to make sure it gets put through correctly and is easily understood and implemented. This relief will help everyone – from long running shows, to producers mounting a production for the first time. Lets hope that this is not the only good news for our industry this year.

To end – I say we need to carry on supporting and nurturing this community that has made our country leaders and ambassadors of this art form. Theatre is our countries greatest asset – it is not complacent to say ‘nobody does it better’ – we entertain and transport people from their worries, we give audiences an uplifting experience, we challenge, provoke, debate, and shock  - all of which is the healthy lifeblood of a cultured society. Squander it by neglect and we become unthinking and uncultured.  Mr Javid - now is the time we have to act before it is too late– once support for our arts has gone – how will we ever get it back?

With all best wishes,
West End Producer


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