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Interview with Sir Peter Bazalgette: Chair of Arts Council England

25 April 2014 Tom Butler

"London is the world’s capital of culture! At the Olympic Games opening ceremony in 2012, the world saw what we had to offer in cultural terms"

We love all things arty and cultural here at London Calling, so we were thrilled to catch up with Sir Peter Bazalgette, the Chair of Arts Council England, at the launch of Richard Wilson’s Slipstream at the new Heathrow Terminal 2 building to hear his thoughts on the project.

London Calling: First of all, we should ask you what you think of Slipstream?

Sir Peter Bazalgette: I first saw the plan for this six months ago and I was quite excited by the idea of a public sculpture following a stunt plane’s flight and how dynamic that would be, but I didn’t know until I got here this morning just how bowled over I would be by the fluidity and sheer dynamism of it. I really, really like it.

LC: You’ve talked about how private money for public art is hugely important and Heathrow’s backing of Slipstream is a perfect example of that. Is this a remit of yours at Arts Council England to actively pursue and encourage further private investment in the arts?

SPB: Arts Council England has a specific remit given to it two years ago to encourage philanthropy and private support of art. This is not to replace public funding, which is a critical part of it, it’s to enhance it, to help all arts and cultural organisations to diversify their revenue streams.

That means individuals giving a bit more, it means companies coming back in and supporting, which decreased greatly after the credit crunch. Trusts and foundations do great work supporting art and culture too, and alongside other things like tax credits and social enterprise investment, it all adds up to a diversification of revenue so we can invest more money in to arts and culture.

LC: In the USA they prescribe to a more philanthropic model. We’re beginning to see more of it here in this country. Is this a model we should take on do you feel?

SPB: There’s always been private support of arts and culture in this country. In fact there was private support before public support, including Henry VIII having the greatest musicians in his court, it goes back a long way.

Arts Council England is actively supporting philanthropy and private supporting of the arts alongside public funding and we’re doing various things to assist on that. We have appointed a company to run a new course for fundraisers, so fundraising can become more professional and up their game.

We also have in place now a system called Catalyst which gives endowment grants to arts and cultural organisations which they then have to match from private fundraising. So we’re doing a number of things in order to assist and encourage fundraising for arts and culture.

LC: The British Council recently produced a report that stated when people come into contact with arts and culture in this country they’re more like to trade with us. Is this fact or opinion?

SPB: The British Council did some very interesting research about 18 months ago that showed that people who come in to contact with British culture are more likely to trade with Britain. It’s not surprising, but they’ve now demonstrated it with a properly constructed survey.

This means that arts and culture, apart from the joy that it brings to our lives, along with the enlightenment, excitement, entertainment etc, it has a really important role in branding our country internationally. And it has done, London is the world’s capital of culture! At the Olympic Games opening ceremony in 2012, the world saw what we had to offer in cultural terms. We have a reputation for it and this is particularly brilliant for our creative industries which are growing very rapidly, but it also has a significance for all our trade.

LC: Heathrow Terminal Two is seen by its architect, Luis Vidal, as a cathedral, social destination and gathering place for all. Do you feel that cultural organisations currently have that same vision and are doing enough to become a cultural and community hub?

SPB: There is, if you like, a bit of a parallel between a new terminal like the one here at Heathrow and arts destinations and venues, in that since the lottery started in the early nineties, Britain’s arts and cultural scene has changed out of all recognition.

New cultural destinations like The Sage concert hall and The Baltic art gallery in Gateshead, the Turner Contemporary in Margate and Nottingham Contemporary art gallery, these are all exciting new arts and cultural destinations, and when they’re run well, really well, as the Southbank Centre is, then they become gathering places.

They’re places you go to meet people, you go to eat, you go to buy books. At their best that’s how they work. It’s a virtuous circle, because if they work that way they have additional revenue streams. For a typical arts organisation now, more than half its revenues come from commercial activities, sales of tickets, hospitality, café’s and so on. Just over a quarter then comes from the Arts Council with the organisations we fund.

For more information about Slipstream please click here to read our interview with artist Richard Wilson.

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