What Does Maria Miller Need to Know? 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 (www.proteustheatre.com) 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 product? “Politicians think complex but talk simple” - are we afraid to make the complex argument? 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’. WHAT WE CAN ALL DO! 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 (www.proteustheatre.com) and post the result on this website!!! Tags: 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.