By Rt Hon Sadiq Khan MP.
In the latest instalment of our Focus on the Creative Industries Series, Sadiq Khan MP discusses the importance of the arts to London.
Politicians discussing the arts and creative industries can often seem forced and contrived with little knowledge of the subject they’re talking about other than what they’ve been given on the latest zeitgeist crib sheet. I realise that I may set myself up for a fall immediately but the arts, and the fruits of the creative industries, is something that us Londoners are probably more exposed to than in most other cities in the UK.
But what does it mean to London? Across the UK, the creative and cultural industries have predominance in London and the South East. More than 40% people working in the industry do so in these regions. 25% of the people employed in these industries are in London, compared with 13% of the overall employed population based in London.
We see then that as an employer and revenue generator it’s a big deal for London. And it’s not just West End theatres or major art galleries that contribute to this. We have a wealth of smaller community based organisations, including in my own constituency TARA Arts, a theatre venue which hosts and presents theatre and other live performances, as well as facilitating the development of emerging young and mid-career artists. I’m also one of the patrons of the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon, which specialises in youth theatre. Alongside each show Polka have a learning programme which includes school visits and workshops and this helps children explore and develop creatively. This development and incubation of new ideas is something which the more community based groups do so well in London, for example the renowned Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) which, in its own words, ‘pioneers new practice in contemporary theatre’. They proved this to great effect with ‘Jerry Springer the Opera’ which having begun at BAC then moved to the Edinburgh Fringe and then to the West End and to the United States. This may be an obvious example but it is a good one.
Why are community organisations so important? It’s quite simple really, they are the ones who can be the first, and sometimes only, form of interaction between local people and the arts. It’s here and also in schools that the flame of creativity can be ignited. Whether that be by music, theatre, visual arts – it can be the thing that encourages the budding creative to investigate further. Young or old, the arts and creative industries can also bring people together across communities. The collective experience of taking part in arts based activities, or even just enjoying them as part of an audience can be something that is treasured, and also something that can open up debate. London’s cultural diversity also means that the range of art being created in the city is truly global, which in itself serves to promote understanding of the differences between us, and more importantly the similarities. This building of relationships through social interaction relates to what the social scientist Robert Putnam would call ‘social capital’, and the creation of social networks which in themselves have value. I agree that the creation of these social networks is undoubtedly a good thing as they bring people together who may not otherwise meet.
From a politician’s point of view then, I see the arts in London as performing a number of different roles. It’s an employer, a revenue generator, an educator, a community service and also something that can bring a great deal of pleasure to millions of people. It’s therefore important that politicians support the arts and creative industries where possible and make sure that they are available to all. It is essential in these tough economic times that we do not see a retreat of arts organisations away from the community level but that we try to nurture creativity as much as possible.
Rt Hon Sadiq Khan MP is Member of Parliament for Tooting and Shadow Minister for London.