Mary Swan, 26 January 2013

I called this session as I have an appointment with Maria Miller coming up in a couple

of weeks time. My company ( are based in Basingstoke and

she is our local MP. I wanted to know what D&D wanted me to ask/tell her, and this

was the result…..

We want her to understand that as much as she can help us, the arts can help her

also - she has a wide ranging portfolio with responsibility for ‘women’, ‘equalities’ and

‘disability issues’. The arts provide an an important resource across all of those topics,

and as such should be seen as an agent for change and awareness in these areas.

David Lan, Nicholas Hytner and others have convened a group to create an approach

for lobbying for the arts, and I will make contact with them to find out more about their

arguments. However, as a group we felt strongly that whilst it's great that the ‘big boy’

organisations and ‘national treasures’ like Danny Boyle are contributing, there is a

danger that the smaller organisations and individual artists are lost in the mix.

There was also a question around how useful it is when multi-millionare Danny Boyle

bemoans funding cuts, prompting the ‘Daily Mail’ readership to ask “Why don't you put

your hand in your pocket?”

Finn Kennedy's blog was mentioned - “Challenge Ed Vaisey” - and a quick tweet and

answer to ex MP Louise Mench confirmed that he was the person to collar long term!

We felt that it was easy to demonise politicians, there have been plenty of positive

relationships between arts organisations and politicians of all parties - John Denham's

support of all levels of cultural engagement in Southampton over the past 15 years

was cited, and though we like to paint him as a bogeyman, Michael Gove is a well

known consumer of culture. So can we turn the conversation from negative to

positive? Can we change our position from ‘attack’ to ‘collaborate’?

One positive way was to demand a ‘surgery’ appointment with your MP - they may end

up in Maria Miller's position after the next election or cabinet re-shuffle - I wish we had

sooner as we would have already begun the conversation.

So perhaps we should be approaching this from the angle of ‘how do we help her get

re- elected?

The most important issue to get over to her seemed to be around the complexity of the

arts ecology; we should be able to make her understand how interdependent the

entire industry is on each other and the removal of any tier of that industry causes

instability throughout.

How do we map the trajectory of the ’food chain' in the arts? How might we express

the connectedness of all arts organisations to each other? Maybe something visual

that explains the ‘Billy Elliot effect’ might make it easier for politicians to understand

that relatively low levels of public subsidy nurture and grow world beating cultural


“Politicians think complex but talk simple” - are we afraid to make the complex


We should be talking about how the arts create human beings - empathetic, confident,

and with big open minds; theatre makers go beyond the rational achieving always way

beyond the possible.

Someone in the group suggested that if she has children (she does) this might be a

way to enable her to understand the life long value of the arts.

We talked about the diversity of business models in arts organisations and how the

sector has become incredibly flexible, creative and able to grow even in times of great

austerity - something the government has not been able to do with the economy. We

may have something to say to big business about this.

We should talk about the way artists can transform city centre spaces - how empty

shop units and offices can be used as venues and radically transform town centre life.

However, should we let some organisations die? If they can't find a way to survive in

the ‘new normal’ do they deserve to live? By lobbying to save them are we just

preserving the status quo?

Have we become a bit complacent because we feel we've lost control - we need to

have an equal relationship with government - not ‘parent/child’.


Make an appointment to see your local MP and talk to them - don't shout - the more

we can get on side the more discussions will happen.

ACE can't do this for us - we have to act as individuals and collectively.

Talk to big business about lobbying for the arts - not just throwing money at us

(although that's lovely).

Stop being ashamed of talking about art - you don't always have to mention the

participatory programme first!!

We also should make the argument for artists and not just organisations.

We are going to invite her, or one of her assistants to D&D!!

The meeting is on the 8th Feb and I promise we will try and put all this stuff to her! Iwill

blog ( and post the result on this website!!!


D&D8, Tory government cuts, Maria Miller, political lobbying, funding cuts, arts funding

Comments: 2

German Munoz, 28 January 2013

Would be very interested to find out how it goes. Good luck!

I will find out my MPs next surgery date and make an appointment.

Mary Swan, 12 February 2013

Last Friday Ross Harvie, proteus' Associate Director and I met Maria Miller MP, the current Secretary of State for Culture

and conservative MP for our home town of Basingstoke. We had requested a meeting serveral times previously to no avail,

but just after christmas her PA got in touch and set up a date for us to finally meet.

I had attended Improbable's annual theraputic open space event for artists, ‘Devoted and Disgruntled’ a couple of weeks

ago and had called a session entitled ‘What does Maria Miller need to know?’ in anticipation of this meeting.

So on Friday morning I was armed with information from colleagues and a lot of curiosity as to what this meeting would be. I

described the encounter later on twitter as ‘good’ and ‘interesting’ - I shall qualify why I used those terms.

First the ‘Good’.

Maria Miller is an extremely intelligent woman, sharp suited and high heeled booted, she has the intense energy of

someone with burning ambitions - this, I think is a good thing in a Tory Secretary for Culture in the current climate. It seems

unlikely that the Tories will get back in at the next election (although I am a ‘child of Thatcher’, so am always aware that

even the most unpopular politicians can get back through that black front door), so for Maria Miller, this may be her big

career chance in cabinet. In our wide ranging conversation she seemed to understand the theatre ecology well - at one

point making the case for affordable and accessible cultural activity as well as anyone I know in the arts. She seems

infinitely better briefed now than she was when she took office, and understanding of the funding issues facing small and

medium arts organisations. In short, she gives the impression that she ‘gets it’. When I asked her about legacy giving and

philanthropy she didn't argue the case for all organisations to pursue these routes - what she was most interested in finding

out from us was what larger arts organisations could do to support smaller ones. She seemed genuinley suprised to learn

that most venues cannot pay fees large enough to enable touring work to wash its face, and that companies are struggling

to secure dwindling trust funding. She acknowledged that the injection of cash back into the lottery funding system would

not cure all and that the arts council had absorbed the brunt of the cut handed down to it internally.

Now the ‘Bad’.

Whilst she does seem to understand the issues, I don't get the impression that any additional funding for the arts will be

forthcoming from this government, nor that she will be pushing for it. We only had one mention of ‘austerity, previous

government, all in it together, blah, blah’ once throughout our converstaion and to her credit she didn't roll out the normal

rhetoric that historically the arts have had funding and so should be grateful. She didn't go so far to say that the current

levels of funding via the DCMS will remain, she can't, but she didn't say they wouldn't get reduced either. I challenged her

on galvanising business support for the arts and reminded her that no government of any persuasion had really given

businesses the incentive or the push to support cultural organistaions as a matter of course. She didn't pick up that baton

disappointingly, and neither did she have any real advice or recommendations as to how organisations could go about

levering support other than the existing methods.

In short, she seemed to be more interested in finding out about the sector than having any advice or recommendations for it

- no bad thing at this stage - as long as it leads to collaborative thinking going forward. However, in our 45 minutes or so of

conversation she expertly steered around direct questions and was keen to make the case for her own understanding of the

arts ecology. Perhaps this is a reaction to the roasting she received in the press, or a desire to make sure her own

constituency understand her position. Either way, this felt very much like a ‘first’ conversation, not a definitive one.

Now the ‘Interesting’

She was far more interested in our community based participatory projects than I expected, becoming particularly

enthusiastic around our work with NEET young people in deprived areas, and our work with young women on self - esteem.

She did seem to be enthusiastic about issues that related to the rest of her current portfolio - as you would expect.

However, unlike many funding bodies, she didn't disagree that professional artists have to have a spectrum of experience

and opportunity to be able to be effective practitioners in a community setting - in short she understood that community

based work alone could not support or nourish the sector. She has clearly had to hold her own as a woman in the macho

environs of Westminster, but she hasn't taken the Thatcher route of metaphorically closing the door behind her - she does

genuinely seem interested in women's issues and may see this as her potential legacy. She talked at length of the wider

value of culture to the economy and to the country on the world stage, and supported the view that the Creative Industries

are the fastest growing industry in the country. She told me how engagement in the arts created rounded, confident human

beings (!) - and although she briefly tried to defend the Ebacc, she admitted that the experiences of her own children had

illustrated the importance of arts in education.

It may just be - with my positive head on - that Maria Miller might be more open to conversations in the future that go

deeper into what arts organisations do to survive and thrive in the current climate. She asked us why proteus ‘bucks the

trend’ since we have expanded our operation over the past few years, I think she was hoping that we could provide her with

a good news story, we explained that we have done what all good arts organsiations do - re-model, innovate and work

harder and longer for less. This wasn't the answer she expected.

In short, as a human being I liked her. As a politician she is fiercley intelligent and charming. I stand poles apart from her

politically, but she seemd to listen, didn't lecture, was keen to understand and even though her PA was there throughout

writing down every single word that was said (!) she spoke for herself in an unguarded way. I also felt a little disappointed

that we didn't know any more about the government's position on future sources of funding, but perhaps, just perhaps, they

don't know yet either and there is a chance for us to shape the future.

This is the start of a conversation we intend to keep having - her parting shot was an asurrance that she would attend a big

event we have coming up in a few months - we will hold her to that and to future conversations. As I said at D&D - make an

appointment with your local MP at their constituency surgery - they may be the Secretary of State for Culture one day and

you'll regret not influencing them earlier - we did.

We have to deal with these people, no matter how our politics may differ, and if we believe in the possibility of human

beings to bring about positive change, then we must be able to find ways to talk to people we think are ideoligically opposed

to our core beliefs. We can't go back, we won't get back what we've lost, we have to shape and influence the future now.

Start the conversation.