Nick Ahad: The Hepworth is living proof of the benefits of inevesting in the arts

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THE dust has settled and the people behind The Hepworth Wakefield can now start to actually take in the fact that just over a week ago, at Yorkshire’s newest purpose built gallery, the one-millionth visitor came through the doors.

It is a remarkable achievement.

It is made all the more remarkable because of what The Hepworth can now become and the context in which it has achieved its success.

Funding for the arts has taken a hammering over the last few years. A suave and canny operator now sits at the head of the Arts Council and Sir Peter Bazalgette, or ‘Baz’ as he actually likes to be known, is squeezing palms behind the scenes and doing what seems to be a pretty good job of making a case for the arts and for public funding.

Even with Baz doing his charming bit, the argument on the ground for arts funding has been fought long and hard and it needs to continue.

The Hepworth gives the arts community a shining example which can be held up, not just of good practice, but of a very real and tangible example of the benefit of investing in the arts and the good it can do for communities. And I am talking proper benefits – not just in terms of buzzwords like community cohesion and the like, but in brass tacks too.

The Hepworth, by this point, was expected to have welcomed around 400,000 visitors.

In more than doubling that figure, the gallery has shown the real benefit in investing in the arts. The Hepworth cost us a lot. Wakefield Council put money into the £35m building – so that was your local taxes – and the Arts Council also invested, so that’s money we spend on the Lottery and from our collective tax money.

Is it worth it?

The Hepworth estimates that those one million visitors have brought into the local economy just shy of £16m. That’s almost £16m in two and a half years brought into the Yorkshire economy by the gallery – and it’s not a massaging of the figures that has allowed the gallery to claim that number, it is calculated using a measure of how much is spent by visitor per head by both Wakefield Council and Welcome to Yorkshire. As our American cousins would say, you do the math. If it continues to have the success it has so far, The Hepworth will have brought in around £30m within five years of opening.

So this is what The Hepworth can now become: a powerful new weapon.

In the past few years a now discredited quote from Churchill has him responding to a plan to cut money for the arts to fund the war effort by asking: “Then what are we fighting for?”

A pithy line, it is a shame Churchill never actually said it. What we can now say, in the battle to convince that the arts are worth our investment is: just look at The Hepworth.