Abolition of the Arts Council

In reading about Donald Trump’s suggestion that the National Endowment for the Arts should be abolished, I’m reminded of my first visit to 10 Downing Street.

I had been invited to meet with a young Policy Adviser, James Purnell, some time in late 1997 or early 1998. He wanted my thoughts as Corporate Policy Director at the Arts Council, and someone who had started to build a reputation for shaking things up a bit. Hot off the heels of setting up what had been described by the Times as a ‘revolutionary’ new funding scheme, which distributed small amounts of arts funding to youth and community groups without the steer or imposition of Arts Council officers, I was being invited to generate some new thinking into the PM’s team.

‘Think the unthinkable’ said Purnell. So, following a mantra which had been expressed by Purnell’s boss, I came up with Arts Education, Arts Education, Arts Education. My policy suggestion went vaguely along the following lines: put all funding for the arts into arts education; re-orient the National Curriculum so that there was a new emphasis on dance, drama, visual arts, music and design; and insist that any Lottery or other funding should only be used for education or community-focused purposes. In short, I said: make arts funding redundant. Advocate and promote arts education instead. What would you do with the Arts Council? asked Purnell. Abolish it! I said forthrightly.

He laughed, and asked me for a serious suggestion instead.


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