From glee club to Time Team: cultural education plan revealed as professionals debate state of the arts

Schools plan to include everything from dance to archaeology, says culture minister Ed Vaizey at arts industry conference

A new national plan for cultural education in schools – covering everything from archaeology to dance to the visual arts – is to be drawn up by the government, a national arts conference was told on Tuesday.

The culture minister Ed Vaizey told the third State of the Arts conference in Salford that the plan would follow next week's publication of a review by Darren Henley into the provision of cultural education.

"We want to work with arts organisations large and small and encourage them to play their part in providing children with varied cultural experiences," he said.

That includes everything from "archaeology to architecture and the built environment, archives, craft, dance, design, digital arts, drama and theatre, film and cinemas, galleries, heritage, libraries, literature, live performance, museums, poetry and the visual arts."

Around 600 arts and culture professionals gathered to debate the biggest issues facing the sector.

Dame Liz Forgan, the chair of Arts Council England, also announced a new £750,000 fund to support English artists who want to travel, explore and develop audiences for their work overseas.

Forgan said the Artists' International Development Fund – a collaboration with the British Council – would be open to applications on 1 March and addresses "increasing insistence by artists that they need access to their peers, to audiences and to influences from other places and other cultures."

There were many issues discussed at the conference but one message delivered over and again was that artists and the arts are more important than ever in a tough economic climate.

Vaizey said: "In a time of economic austerity and uncertainty, a theme we'll hear a lot of, the arts are more important than ever.

"I come from the school of thought that the arts are their own justification, valuable in and of themselves. You don't have to find other arguments to explain the importance of what you do. In any event, I think those arguments have been made forcefully and effectively. No one doubts the contributions that the arts make to our economy, our communities, our schools, and our well being."

Several speakers at the conference said that opinion was not universally shared with many local authorities cutting arts budgets. One Cumbrian delegate challenged Vaizey to write to all local councillors in the UK making the case for the value of the arts. "I love a challenge," he replied.

Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester city council, said his authority spent millions on the arts for three good reasons. It improved quality of life, it encouraged thinking and creativity and it provided jobs, both directly and indirectly.

Vaizey encouraged the arts to embrace new technology. "It concerns me that the arts may not be benefiting from the revolution in technology that we're seeing in the 21st century," he said.

The minister chided a speaker from the Theatrical Management Association because the website did not have the date for its awards. Soon after, the conference chair Kirsty Wark revealed a tweet pointing out that Vaizey had not updated his blog since 2010.

Other issues discussed included the continuing problems of foreign artists getting visas – not a big issue if they are Australian, but a big problem if they are African, said one delegate.

The playwright David Edgar pointed out regional disparities because so many non-London organisations are seeing their budgets cut by local councils – that's less of an issue in central London, he said.

• This article was amended on 15 February 2012 to make clear that Ed Vaizey was challenged by a Cumbrian delegate to write to all councils, not North Cumbria's alone.


Mark Brown

The GuardianTramp

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