Three compelling reasons why business should get behind British arts and culture

Sir Peter Bazalgette
War Horse is a UK export success story

WHY DO we invest public funds in arts and culture? Undoubtedly because they are part of our national conversation, and enhance our quality of life. Wherever you look, publicly-funded arts are making an important contribution to society; in prisons, hospitals, old people’s homes, schools and universities. But less acknowledged is the symbiotic relationship between arts and business. We need industry, particularly the financial sector, to support our national arts and culture for three compelling reasons.

The first concerns the creative industries. January’s figures from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport show that the gross valued added of the creative industries rose by 15.6 per cent between 2008 and 2012, compared to 5.4 per cent for the economy as a whole, while employment in the sector rose by 8.6 per cent between 2011 and 2012, against 0.7 per cent across the economy. The sector is growing fast, and needs new talent. Arts and culture incubates that talent – as was shown by Arts Council England’s recent “spill over” study.

Our creative industries produce – and export – computer games, music, movies, architectural and design services, and TV programmes, as well as brilliant shows such as War Horse and Matilda. We also produce Oscar winners. Both Steve McQueen and Danny Boyle had their first breaks through publicly-funded arts organisations.

Secondly, it is accepted that most UK economic growth in the next decade will come from cities. Cities need souls as well as sewers. Any employer has a vested interest in their locality being a rewarding place to live. That is how you attract a talented workforce. But imaginative cultural organisations are themselves agents of regeneration. Witness how Nottingham Contemporary has attracted a charter of creative businesses and how the Manchester International Festival has driven talent and tourists to the city.

The third reason for businesses to back arts and culture is that it supports “brand Britain”. We are recognised as being good at “the creative stuff” and we know, from British Council research, that countries and industries exposed to our culture are more likely to trade with us in general.

We are also looking to the financial sector to help develop innovative funding methods. Arts organisations are responding vigorously to reduced public funding by growing commercial revenues, providing business opportunities. New social investment models are coming, where part of the dividend from money invested is the delivery of a public good. These revenue streams are securitisable and open up opportunities for loans, or even soft equity.

Many companies, such as BP and Bloomberg, are long-term donors to the arts because they understand their value, they derive a definable return from sponsorship deals, or because they wish to support educational and socially beneficial schemes. Now that the damage done to balance sheets by the crisis is being repaired, other firms could afford to join them. Our reputation in the world is largely defined by our culture; it can make a significant difference to economic growth. It’s a national asset, and a national opportunity. Let’s invest in it.