Another Culture Secretary – and another missed opportunity

Michelle Donelan, MP for Chippenham, Corsham, Melksham, Bradford on Avon and the villages

So, Michele Donelan is the new Culture Secretary.

This is the eleventh Culture Secretary we have had in 10 years, so the odds on her being around for a while aren’t good, which may be some consolation for the arts community.

So let’s take a moment to look at her qualifications for holding the Culture post.

Er,…..

Donelan reportedly “dabbled in the media” (as Variety puts it) working in an undisclosed capacity for “That’s LIfe!” and “Marie Claire” magazines, on the Australian editions of these titles. For those of you who haven’t seen them, this is what one of these publications looks like

This is the Australian version of the magazine that I believe Ms Donelan earlier worked upon in some capacity. Hopefully not as a headline writer. This is an issue from 2019, long after her departure

She apparently then, briefly worked for The History Channel. Interestingly, her LinkedIn profile for this job shows a disappointing amount of connections, posts or content, as evidenced by the screengrab below. Is it just me, or does 1 connection not appear to be a storming success for a Partnership Marketing Executive?

Michelle’s LinkedIn account, like her brief job, appears to be history…..

There followed a small stint for Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment in their marketing department. I wouldn’t be shouting about that myself, but, hey, it takes all sorts.

Ah! But, of course- she will have been chosen as coming from an area where the arts are in full and vibrant bloom.

Er,…

Donelan represents a constituency with no professional theatres, just a 150-seat converted church (whose website seems to have been updated last in June….) and the Neeld Community Centre (200 seats) whose sparse programme is mainly psychics and tribute bands that do the rounds of the UK’s small halls. As to theatre, a quick search of its website reveals this result:

This screengrab (taken 7 September)from the website of Neeld Community and Arts Centre doesn’t exactly show an abundance of theatre offerings….

Michelle bellows on her MP website bio “Broadening skills and opportunities is something I am truly passionate about – it is the reason why I entered politics, and it was the theme of my Maiden Speech in Parliament in 2015. I believe an MP’s job should be to knock down barriers, open doors and create opportunities for all.”

Really? So why, as Minister for Further and Higher Education from 2021-2, did she support and enable the devaluing and de-funding of arts education from our colleges and universities, slashing their funding to “encourage” people into what the Tories see as more “sensible” jobs – like banking, insurance, and factory work.

Ah, but surely we heard her speaking out against Rishi Sunak, the then-Chancellor, branding arts careers and jobs as “unviable”? Of course we didn’t. Donelan’s actions show her as fully on-board with devaluing and downgrading arts education and crushing the artistic aspirations of young people. Why? To pressure them into a boring 9 to 5 soulless existence which Tories need in order to control our country. Their mantra is ‘keep them poor, keep them sick, keep them stupid and keep them angry’.

Michelle’s walk hardly chimes with her loudly-trumpeted talk “I believe an MP’s job should be to knock down barriers, open doors and create opportunities for all.” …….

Here’s the point, folks….

You may have seen the Labour party social media post where Liz Truss is heard talking down UK workers in a discussion around the productivity gap. It is so depressing to hear our new Prime Minister casually slagging off UK workers behind closed doors. Instead of talking frankly, constructively and passionately as intelligent adults about what the issue is and how we resolve it.

Let’s be clear. There is absolutely a productivity gap. It has been getting worse since the great financial crash of 2008 and has not recovered – in fact it’s actually got even worse.

In the lazy and ill-considered manner which has typified governments of the last twelve years, they have freely allowed themselves to be manipulated by education “influencers” and lobbyists who have been pushing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) as their Holy Grail.

But more recently a wider range of actual educators have realised that they need to push STEAM instead.

The A?

Arts.

Why? Because the arts are about PEOPLE. Made by people, for people. Because the arts give an appreciation and understanding of creativity, they allow creative expression. Enjoyment of and participation in the Arts makes people feel better. Studies have proven this.

In the UK workforce,there has been a sharp decline over the past 20 years in Management training, more and more staff are expected to learn on the job. For managers this makes their job considerably harder. This then means they struggle to get the best out of their staff. The staff may feel demotivated, unheard, disconnected. And there’s the reason for our productivity gap. The so called “soft skills” – connection, communication, empathy, etc – are not being taught or practised. They are the key to better relationships, and to a happier, more productive workforce.

Encouraging training and opportunities in, appreciation of and participation in Arts, whatever they are, makes for a happier, healthier, more interested and engaged public- and workforce. Exposure to the Arts gently, carefully, teaches people about communication, empathy, connection, kindness, as well as helping them give voice to feelings they may not otherwise have felt strong enough to explore. The arts explore, debate and celebrate what it is to be human. In short, the arts allow us to understand each other better. And that helps us create better relationships, which is the most complicated thing that humans can do so well – if they are encouraged, supported and shown examples of what this looks like in action. And that is the golden gift from the arts. They teach people how to be people. Better people. Happier people. And hopefully how to feel better about themselves and how to connect with others.

See my point here?

That’s how you close the productivity gap.

Invest in the Arts.

But don’t expect this Government to understand that, or to do anything about it. Not when it’s easier for the Prime Minister to sneer behind the country’s back about how lazy British workers are.

The Arts will survive another incapable Culture Minister. But will the country?


Find creative insights in TEDxBroadway

The last thing you want is for me to suggest you spend MORE time on the internet, but here I go, knowing I’m treading on thin ice!

You’ll all know the interesting, useful and often very entertaining TED talks series, and the many offshoot series it has inspired, which utilise the same format and name. In case you’re wondering, the x denotes an independently organised TED event.

If you haven’t come across TEDxBroadway before, then it’s well worth a look.

TED’s YouTube channel has a whole range of TEDxBroadway talks available which you can easily find.

Here’s one to start you off, which I like very much. Broadway set designer David Korins shares three ways to create a space that moves you. Its only ten minutes. Enjoy!

And if you enjoyed that, here’s a TEDxBroadway playlist (there are lots of other too!) to start you off. Dive in!