The arts in an age of austerity

January’s State of the Arts conference – organised by the RSA and Arts Council England, with further support from Arts & Business – brought together 500 speakers and delegates from the creative sector, politics, business and academia to discuss the future of the arts and arts policy.

Arts and culture – too often overlooked by policymakers – are essential to our economic growth and collective wellbeing, as the speakers acknowledged in the plenary sessions and panel discussions. Ben Bradshaw MP and Jeremy Hunt MP, respectively the secretary and shadow secretary of state for Culture, Media and Sport, both emphasised that, should their party win the general election, they would fight to uphold Britain’s right to a flourishing arts sector in spite of impending cuts in public spending.

One of the most provocative presentations of the day came from Professor Bill Ivey, director of the Curb Centre for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University in the US, whose concept of ‘expressive life’ offered a powerful new way of thinking about our cultural rights as a society.

The RSA and Arts Council England hope to make the conference an annual fixture, perhaps moving it outside London. The event is likely to evolve to incorporate an even broader range of cultural sectors, embodying the RSA’s position – both current and historical – at the leading edge of arts policy.

Read Professor Bill Ivey’s feature in the Journal about the importance of ‘expressive life’