Arts cuts prompt stage stars' appeal to prime minister

Sir Richard Eyre, Tony Hall and Jude Kelly warn of lasting damage likely to result from curtailed government spending

Leading figures from the arts have written to the prime minister asking him to join a dialogue about a "long-term policy for public investment in the arts" – urging the government to think beyond the immediate requirements of the harsh economic climate.

The signatories – including director Sir Richard Eyre, Royal Opera House managing director Tony Hall and Southbank Centre artistic director Jude Kelly – warn that if the current level of cuts continues, lasting damage will be done to the public and social benefits provided by culture.

The writers invite David Cameron to meet them to discuss "what we are sure are very similar goals in the future". They add: "We hope you agree that [culture] is not an embellishment of democracy, but is essential to a creative and open society."

The letter was sent as its writers and others from the arts gathered at the Young Vic theatre in London to discuss how they should argue their case over the long term – looking beyond the cuts to be announced by Arts Council England on 30 March.

Eyre warned there could be "cultural apartheid" in the future as the gap between those with access to the arts and those without widens.

He added that arguing for the arts on the grounds of social usefulness alone is counterproductive.

"Utilitarian arguments can diminish the thing that you are arguing for," he said. "Arts are not ethical medicine … they are weapons of happiness."

Dominic Cooke, artistic director of the Royal Court theatre, agreed. "It is really important not to shift our arguments on to the government's territory, but rather to make our own arguments about how vital the arts are to a civilised society."

Kelly said the arts in Britain had created a sophisticated discourse on how to combine elite arts with mass participation, but warned that the cuts might cause "us to take a step back philosophically". The future priority had to be "the cultural rights of children", she said.

She also argued that an ambitious campaign like World Book Night – in which 1m books were given away on 5 March – might help to harness enthusiasm for the arts.

Judith Knight of Artsadmin said that pressure on the government needed to come directly from the electorate.

Noting the outcry that greeted plans to privatise British forests, she said: "Can you imagine that kind of outpouring for the arts? How many people will be marching in the cuts protest in London with the arts at the top of their list?"

Leaders in the arts, she said, "must get this cracked".

David Lan, artistic director of the Young Vic, said: "We shouldn't be responding to the government, but leading the way. We should be thinking about the kind of society we want to have and taking steps to get as close to it as we can."


Charlotte Higgins, chief arts writer

The GuardianTramp

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