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Artists: Workspaces in Cities

Volume 777: debated on Monday 19 December 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure the provision of artists’ workspaces in major cities.

My Lords, high-quality and affordable workspace is essential to ensuring that we can retain our finest creative talent. The Government encourage local authorities and property owners to make spaces available for cultural activities. Arts Council England supports artists’ spaces through funding and brokering partnerships. For example, Bristol’s Spike Island, which is supported by the Arts Council and Bristol City Council, provides subsidised workspace and offers opportunities to make national and international connections as well as peer support and collaboration.

My Lords, I welcome what the Minister has said. The Old Gas Works in Fulham, for example, hosts a vibrant community of more than 200 creative artists and artisans. However, it is now under severe threat, as are many such workspaces across the country, as a result of rising property prices and upmarket residential property development. Can the Minister commit to exploring policies that are designed to save these workspaces, which are so vital to Britain’s cultural and creative future, and provide affordable new spaces through creative enterprise zones, the innovative use of public sector property, rate relief and support for creative land trusts?

My Lords, the Government believe that funding decisions are best made at the local level. We think that local authorities are best placed to decide how to prioritise their spending. However, many local authorities do recognise the value of culture and are still prepared to invest in it because they realise that it brings huge gains. Arts Council England and DCMS are committed to working with local authorities and other partners to encourage the development of affordable workspaces, including through bodies such as creative arts trusts. For example, Arts Council England gives regular funding to Bow Arts Trust which is a GLA example of best practice and partnered by the London Borough of Newham. As well as providing affordable artists’ workspace, it provides learning and participation programmes.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that what is new is that artists are being forced out of London altogether which is surely not good for the cultural or communal health of the city? This is in contrast to Berlin, for example, where rent capping encourages artists and others to live and work within the city.

My Lords, we do not want artists to have to move anywhere if they do not want to. That is why I mentioned an example of where we are partnering and using Arts Council England money. But actually it is an ambition of the Government to move more away from London so more Arts Council England money is going to be spent outside London—the Great Exhibition of the North is an example.

My Lords, it is not only artists’ space being swept away; it is also small businesses such as breweries and metalworkers—businesses that contribute to a local area. Before the Olympics, we saw a lot of small businesses swept away because of the pressure of housing. Is it part of the Government’s industrial strategy to maintain some affordable space, perhaps within industrial sites?

I completely agree with the noble Baroness. As noble Lords will be aware, the Culture Secretary is on the economy and industrial strategy committee of the Cabinet. We would support more than just artists but craft bakers and local industries. We have been doing that in the north—for example, in Newcastle. The Great Place scheme, mentioned in the Culture White Paper and on which the Government spent £15 million, is helping in that regard and is all to do with creating vibrant communities with local arts and industries.

My Lords, it has become rather unfashionable to speak up for London, but it is worth remembering that London is a great capital city and is known worldwide for its cultural riches. Of course, it has many great institutions, which are a big draw for tourism and for our home market, but it also needs the small, innovative creative and cultural businesses referred to earlier. If they are starved out of London either by the cost of property or by strategy, be it from government, Arts Council England or anybody else, does the Minister agree that ultimately the cultural heritage of London will be diminished?

I agree. This is one of the world’s great cities. One reason for that and for so many people coming to visit it is its vibrant arts scene. All I was saying to the noble Earl was that we want to shift the balance a bit to increase funding outside London. It is part of the tourism strategy as well to show foreign visitors that there is more to this country than just London, albeit that London is a great city.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with Josh Baum, a poet from Hackney, who gracefully defines the issue by saying:

“When you see the Waitrose vans driving round the corner, you know the end is coming”?

Will the Minister commit to the Government working with local authorities and in particular the Mayor of London, to ensure that a healthy combination of artists, workspaces and Waitrose vans happily co-exists?

I found it a bit difficult to hear some of that Question because my noble friend Lord Price was chuckling due to the reference to his prior existence. We want a mix of arts, culture, Waitrose and any other supermarket we can think of.

My Lords, is this not becoming almost an art in itself—spinning an answer out of nothing? This is all about money. Arts Council England had its funding cut by 36% and has 10% more to go. Local authorities have seen a 56% reduction in their government grant. The Minister has talked about funding decisions best being made at a local level. Well, I wish him well with that.

My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that arts and heritage funding since 2009-10 increased by 9% from £627 million to £683 million in 2014-15. I agree that local authorities have had to make difficult choices, but Arts Council England will invest £1.1 billion of public money from government and an estimated £700 million from the National Lottery between 2015 and 2018.