My Trip to England: The Ministry of Culture

Spending almost two weeks speaking with hundreds of arts leaders throughout England has given me a great opportunity to observe the role and importance of a Ministry of Culture.

While it may be ironic to praise the work of such a Ministry exactly at the time it is cutting grants dramatically, I do so nonetheless.

In my dealings with this Ministry (technically the Department of Culture, Media and Sport or DCMS) I have always been impressed with its overwhelming interest in the health of the national arts ecology. This was true when I was leading the Royal Opera House and was working with Secretary of State Chris Smith, a member of the Blair Cabinet, and is as true today working with Jeremy Hunt, Chris Smith's counterpart on the Cameron Cabinet, and his Minister of Culture Ed Vaizey.

Unlike the NEA, the DCMS is not simply a funding body, channeling federal grants to numerous organizations. DCMS has a larger scope: it assists in training arts managers, works with the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Department of Finance) on tax incentives for private contributions, addresses concerns of access and equity, promotes philanthropy, and sets cultural policy. It is no wonder that art is pursued at a world class level by an astonishing array of arts organizations throughout England.

All of this comes at a cost, of course. And lately, in our age of austerity, the cost has been deemed too high and substantial cuts are being made.

But instead of simply granting less, DCMS is revamping its grant making to encourage more private giving through a large challenge grant program, and is working to change tax laws to encourage philanthropy. Speaking with Secretary of State Hunt and Minister Vaizey is refreshing and inspiring; they are not content to simply meet a new, reduced budget. They are truly concerned for the health of the arts ecology of their nation.

In our country, when funding for the arts declines, as it just has over the past several years, arts organizations are left on their own. We must find ways to add revenue or, more frequently, cut costs without the power of a federal ministry. And we have no one attending to the export of American art, the training of our artists and arts managers, or providing the arts to underserved populations, not to mention a national arts education policy or any national policymakers who work to assist sectors of our industry that are in true despair, like our orchestras.

Whether the cost justifies the benefit is an analysis that requires someone far smarter than I.

But the importance of cultural tourism in England is astonishing, the level of theater, opera, symphony and dance performance is extraordinary, the museums are crowded and the export of arts of all kinds is thriving.

Next time you are enjoying a visit to Tate Modern or the National Gallery or a performance of "War Horse," the Royal Ballet or the Royal Shakespeare Company, say a quiet word of thanks for the DCMS.