‘The arts are not the cherry on the cake – they are the cake,’ says Melvyn Bragg

In his speech in the House of Lords, Melvyn Bragg advocates for crucial support for the arts in the UK through funding and access to education.
Melvyn Bragg during his speech in the House of Lords, video still. Image: Courtesy of Campaign for the Arts. A British man in his 70s with grey hair and glasses giving a speech among other members in the House of Lords.

UK writer, radio and television broadcaster, Lord Melvyn Bragg has voiced his support for the arts during a speech in the House of Lords on 1 February.

Bragg opened the debate with a call for the UK to realise the full potential of the arts for economic and social transformation. He said: ‘Last year there were over three million job roles in the creative and cultural industries, and there could be more if we recognised and reached the full potential of what is still considered, too often, to be the cherry on the cake.

’The arts are not the cherry on the cake – they are the cake.’

Bragg continued: ‘There is no doubt that this country could build itself up through a cultivation of the arts. Through a determination to release its energies to take on the mantle that other places and other times – Athens, Florence and others – have transformed their societies through the arts, why can’t we?’

The state of the arts in the UK is in dire situation, according to Bragg. ‘We are sleepwalking into permanent mediocrity, and cultural institutions, once the guardians of the arts, have in crucial cases become accessories to this deterioration.’

Bragg further expressed concern around local budget cuts and growing inequality in arts education between state and private schools.

Excerpts from Melvyn Bragg’s speech in the House of Lords on 1 February. Provided courtesy of Campaign for the Arts.

In response, Government Arts and Heritage Minister, Stephen Parkinson said he agreed ‘wholeheartedly with the sentiments Lord Bragg put forward’ and ‘I pay tribute to groups including the Campaign for the Arts’, which keep ‘all of us on our toes’.

The UK-wide alliance, Campaign for the Arts, was formed in 2022 by the merger of the National Campaign for the Arts (formed in 1984) and Public Campaign for the Arts (formed in 1985 with Bragg as its first President). Campaign for the Arts was a direct response to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and its threat to the UK’s cultural sector. It has played a pivotal role in urging the Government to deliver the Culture Recovery Fund.

Read: Why is the art world still married to meritocracy

The Campaign for the Arts advocates for three main pillars for the arts to be:

  • available from childhood
  • accessible to all, and
  • thriving everywhere.

Its analysis of offical Government statistics has found that between 2009/10 and 2020/21, per-person cultural funding was reduced by 50% in England, 33% in Scotland and 36% in Wales (in real terms). There have been 80,000 jobs lost in music, performing and visual arts due to the pandemic, and only 23,000 are projected to return by 2025.

Off the back of Bragg’s “rallying cry”, Campaign for the Arts is calling for all to share the video, invite a friend to join the Campaign and, for those who are able, to donate to the Campaign to assist its efforts.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. She took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs and was the project manager of ArtsHub’s diverse writers initiative, Amplify Collective. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne and was most recently engaged in consultation for the Emerging Writers’ Festival and ArtsGen. Instagram @lleizy_