It has been yet another turbulent fortnight in the UK arts industry.
When the weight of criticism became too much for the Government to bear (it would be optimistic and fanciful to imagine the hundreds of thousands of signatures of ordinary people on petitions calling for her resignation had any bearing) Maria Miller stepped down as culture secretary and up stepped Sajid Javid.
While there wasn’t exactly a wailing and gnashing of teeth, there was a collective beleaguered sigh among the creative community of Yorkshire when it was announced Miller’s replacement was announced. In fact, the slumping of the shoulders that greeted his appointment I saw mirrored in the arts community around the UK, from friends who work in the sector on Facebook, to the eloquent and passionate open letter written by former children’s laureate Michael Rosen.
I was a little torn, I have to confess. The son of a Rochdale bus driver, a second generation British-Pakistani, Javid is somewhat emblematic. As an ethnic minority in a Britain that feels increasingly hostile towards ‘the other’, it feels important to see such representation at the heart of government.
Would that it wasn’t in this role.
There is a lot of pre-judging of Javid going on and on this very rare occasion I can’t help but join in.
Once again we have a culture secretary whose CV, until he was appointed to arguably the most influential job in UK arts, appears deficient. The man’s a banker. I know a few people who work in the finance industry. When I meet up with them, it’s not generally for a trip to the theatre.
Now, maybe he will be even as I write poring over some of the impassioned speeches made by Sam West over the past few years about the value of the arts. Even if he is, a bit of swotting up on UK culture, does not a culture secretary make.
Javid, Miller and before her Jeremy Hunt. An industry that takes the name and reputation of Britain around the world deserves better. It deserves a representative who understands.
A couple of days after Javid’s appointment, I was talking to a dancer friend. She was talking about how, when she was 18 and living in a home, art saved her life. A community project she was involved in gave her a reason to wake up the following day, every day. It’s the sort of project that only figures on your radar if culture and art are really in your bones. It’s not the sort of project that sends opening night invitations to directors of multinational banks.
That dancer friend is now a choreographer working in Leeds, inspiring other young people. I seriously hope someone explains the importance of her journey to Sajid Javid.