Taking his themes as ‘grand partnerships’ and ‘transformation’, Peter Bazalgette used his inaugural speech as Arts Council England chair to highlight some of the innovative ways in which arts organisations around the country are working to “sustain our world class arts and culture”, despite the manifest challenges from central and local government funding.

Speaking earlier today at the RSA, London, in the first in a series of State of the Arts seminars, Bazelgette referred to his recent “Grand tour” of ten cities, used to “take the temperature of arts and culture outside London”. He discussed several of the projects he had visited including Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) in Wakefield and Workplace in Gateshead, “a gallery run by two young entrepreneurs who take local artists and develop their careers both nationally and internationally.”

With reference to Newcastle City Council’s recently announced funding U-turn, he suggested that it had been local and international business opinion that had made a difference: “When Newcastle announced its 100 per cent cut to its cultural budget, the business community was shocked at the potential loss of reputation of its city, not just its cultural reputation but it economic reputation. I think it was the opinions of the business community as well as helpful interventions by others that made the difference to the decision and that bought that cut back from 100 per cent to 50 per cent.”

He used the example of YSP to highlight one local authority that is increasing its spending: “Yorkshire Sculpture Park is worth £5m to its local economy and the nearby Hepworth Gallery saw 100,000 visitors in its first five weeks… a case compelling enough that Wakefield is one of the local councils actually increasing its culture budget.”

In summing up, he stressed the importance and impact of public funding in the arts. “We are living in tough economic times and public funding for the arts and culture may well come under more pressure, though let us state unequivocally there remains a political consensus in this country in favour of public funding of the arts.

“We are a sector that can respond to this challenge with innovation, creativity, great ideas, ingenuity. The arts and culture uses public funding as seed corn investment. Innovative ideas and creativity are unlocked by this investment. It brings partners to the table and leads to growth. Public funding will always be the bedrock of Britain’s creative culture because it’s the venture capital that makes wonderful things happen. It’s a relatively small sum of money with a very big result.

“We know the arts enrich our lives… the arts and culture should be invested in, valued and cherished.”

Listen to Peter Bazalgette’s inaugural speech as ACE Chair.