09 June 2006 - 11 June 2006

What conditions are necessary for artistic and cultural creativity?

Chair: Sir Christopher Frayling

For its high-summer conference, under a glorious sun, Ditchley departed from its foreign policy norm and looked at the role of creativity in society.  The objective was to look at the big picture:  how arts fitted in to a changing society;  whether children’s education had the right balance;  how the right resources could be generated.  Inevitably, some parts of the picture were too big for a single weekend.  Just as predictably, we sometimes strayed into micro-territory.  But some conclusions were solid and universally accepted:  the arts are increasingly part of society’s centre stage – not least through the ‘creative industries’;  it is essential to get children actively involved;  and, one way or another, resources are required on a consistent basis without damaging the independence of creative activity.

Some elements were absent.  For instance, we did not hear the voice of the artist.  The British Council, which is about to cooperate with Ditchley on a pair of conferences on national identity, was not represented on this occasion.  We could have done with a wider international spread of opinion, having lost some European and American participants through late cancellations.  And a broader media presence would have been welcome.  Nevertheless the impressive depth and breadth of experience of those who did attend more than adequately compensated for these omissions and the debate proceeded in a very constructive fashion.

In looking at the effects of social change on the arts, we were conscious of the lack of a clear conceptual framework:  what is the value of the arts to society, or to a particular nation?  Twenty years ago we might have been focussing on the economic impact of the arts;  in the 1990s on the social impact;  in the new millennium, with change accelerating remorselessly, the principle concern appeared to this group to be the “public value” of the arts for communities in a changing global environment.  Different cultures were constantly meeting on the same territory and art had to be conscious of its environment.  A high and a low market were equally valid.  Above all, the arts industry needed to define itself against technological change and the rapidly evolving context of new communications instruments.  Against that background, had the right priorities been set within communities, in schools and  in government budgets?  Was the United Kingdom finding a better path through the complexities than elsewhere?  Where did the true responsibilities lie? 

Even allowing for the favourable bias towards the arts which was bound to occur in such a group, the conference was clear that the arts and creativity generally played a central role in society.  Our lives used to be defined by the workplace or the career:  now the criteria ran much more widely.  The factor of life-work balance, often referred to in conversation, seemed to play only a hazy part in policy-making, either at the national or the local level.  It was difficult to define what citizens wanted from the arts and therefore from government policy towards the arts.  Creativity and what was termed the ‘creative economy’ were seen by some as having an increasingly important part to play in the UK’s (and others’) economic activity.  We were agreed that the arts should not be the agent of the state nor the state the principle guardian of the arts.  But we were also inclined to think that the arts should serve societal goals and that the proper role of government in this field could be defined from that.  It could not be the government’s responsibility alone to organise the whole system of cultural consumption and make it work, but that was how the Department of Culture, Media and Sport tended to view itself.  Should it be the Department’s aim to encourage audiences as well as artists?  The answer seemed to be yes, though not without considerable help from the private sector.  Access was important, but access was not everything.

The terms of reference encouraged one working group to consider whether society was dumbing down.  Many participants felt that this was the wrong question.  There was plenty of room both for healthy inclusive élites and for popular culture though we were reminded that excellence was not the preserve of an elite.  There was also scope for a grey area between art and technology, with the younger generation perhaps the best people to decide where the dividing lines should lie.  The majority of participants were inclined to let a thousand flowers bloom and recognised that there would be plenty of failures and risks.  This would always be the case. 

In looking at the role of the educational curriculum in promoting creativity, there was a strong consensus that the natural spark in most children had to be fostered rather than undermined.  Even within an already heavily loaded curriculum, the arts and creative expression should be given a central rather than a tangential place.  Ensuring the quality of teaching and training in and through the arts was essential.  We were perhaps inconsistent in asking for Government to ensure the universal presence of the arts in education, while calling for the local level to have devolved to it the choice of precise ways of doing it.  Establishing imaginative partnerships between public and private sector, between schools, universities and specialised institutions, between artists, arts institutions and schools and involving the input of business as well, were all areas for further exploration. 

With so much focus on the context and on changes in society, we successfully avoided getting bogged down on funding issues.  But the conference gave them a good airing.  We laid down a few firm principles;  and we also had in our minds a “Dear Chancellor” letter, to set out the reasons why the arts and the creative industries needed fuller, even if still partial, government resources.  The principles were reasonably straight forward.  There should be a plurality of sources for funding the arts with public and private sectors playing a comparable role.  Consistency and stability were key ingredients, at whatever level of funding was decided.  Large-scale funding should also stay at arms’ length from the artistic or creative activity, though accountability for public money was also seen as necessary.  The desirable mix was independence together with security.  Only with a balance of support could the integrity of the arts be guaranteed.  If a generous and stable level of government funding could be agreed, then this would help leverage in funding from other sources.   This was seen to be the ideal position.

We attempted also to analyse attitudes towards corporate and individual donorship, having very much in mind the impressive example set by American society.  It was encouraging that corporate social responsibility had taken hold in the business sector, but we were concerned that the arts were suffering as the emphasis of corporate giving switched to sport, education, the environment and human rights.  With a good deal of new money around, there was no natural bias towards giving to the arts.  Many participants wanted to see a stronger appeal to private donors to understand that entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity lay at the heart not just of the new economy but also of the arts, and that they reinforced each other. 

We leavened the UK focus of most of the discussion with an examination of the value of international exchanges in the arts and of cultural diplomacy.  The question of whether more intensive international promotion of cultural and creative activity had a value in the promotion of better global understanding and international peace and security was largely left for another day.  Germany and France were admired for their stronger and more systematic approach to the promotion of their national cultures overseas.  The UK, which on the whole had just as good a song to sing, tended to be more modest or less determined than many of its European partners.  The UK was also less inclined to place its artistic and creative activity in a European context than France, Germany and other EU members.  Many participants saw the British Council as concentrating more specifically on English language training and other instrumental activity than it used to, with a consequent effect on the building of the UK’s image globally.  This conference regretted that trend.  There were achievements to be sold, not least in the public sector, and it would not take an enormous amount of extra expense or effort to do it.  The proposals at the end of this Note include one for better coordination of this overseas effort into the future.  The BBC World Service was, in passing, widely praised for carrying the main burden of overseas representation and doing it very ably.

In assessing where we had reached in this debate, a number of clear inferences were drawn.  Funding from a variety of sources worked well:  stability and independence should come first.  The arts could no longer be considered peripheral to society or to the national character and the effect of cultural activity was spreading wider all the time.  There was undoubtedly a link between a healthy artistic sector and a healthy and creative economy, not least in the huge role which London played in the nation’s economy, as a city which attracted attention also for its dynamism in the arts and for its multiculturalism.  The links between culture, foreign policy and international security were less easy to prove, but nevertheless felt to be significant.  More research needed to be done on the evidence for these linkages and on the role which members of society wanted the arts to play in the national or the international context.

Above all, we were encouraged by the flow of our debate to think of the arts in society as having three component values, the intrinsic, the instrumental and the institutional.  The value of the arts could not be separated from their emotive quality, hard to define but easy to perceive in, for instance, the reaction of children to the arts when well taught.  The much more identifiable instrumental values, in attracting tourists, in enlarging audiences, in creating courses of study, in shortening patient recovery time in hospitals, were evident but still problematic to quantify.  The institutional value of the arts was connected with conceptions of civil society and with promoting public goods, the distinctive quality lying in the fact that culture tended to be a choice for an individual, unlike the law, or health , or going to school.  If the arts were presented as relying too much on one or other of these three component parts, then the balance was lost and the true values to society was underestimated.  In particular, if the government, in making its decisions on resources, relied too much on the instrumental effect of the arts, then their true worth to society as a whole would be underplayed.  All three areas had to be taken into account and balanced for a complete understanding of what culture did for the nation.  It would then be easier to recognise that art and culture were public goods in their own right. 

Beyond drawing a few conclusions along these lines participants were keen to recommend a number of areas for further work and study: 

  • The relationship between the arts and the creative industries.  With manufacturing industry over the next generation likely to lose out further to China, India and elsewhere, the creation of jobs in other areas would, we thought, benefit significantly from the promotion of creative activity in the context of the arts as well as of business.  We were told that the “creative economy” was growing at 8% per annum and that the export value of creative and cultural goods was in the region of £7.5 billion.  The relationship between the arts and the creative economy deserved further examination.
  • The older generation.  While we focussed sensibly on the education of children, particularly at the primary level, we failed to discuss the impact of an ageing population active in areas relevant to the arts.  The change in demographics would have consequences way beyond the pensions issue. 
  • More upbeat presentation.  The public sector should take a more deliberate approach to selling its achievements in promoting the arts and to encouraging the right circumstances for healthy private sector activity in the arts.  The UK’s approach was very good in a number of respects, but undersold.

The same applied to the UK’s cultural diplomacy, where a number of different departments – and indeed institutions in the private sector – were active abroad, but there was too little coordination.  The British Council, the Foreign Office, DTI, and DCMS should join up the dots better (though the conference did not support the idea of “cultural ambassadors”, as in France and Germany.)

  • Access and bureaucracy.  The conference saw no harm in improving access for the general public to the arts, so long as this was not the only focus of government activity.  Whereas five years ago access and excellence tended to be competitive ideas, now access could be seen as enhancing excellence.  Too often, however, applications for government help ran into enormous bureaucratic hurdles, not least with the filling in of application forms.  The conference recommended that this whole area be simplified.
  • There was much discussion about acquisitions and the right level of resources to be put into them.  Extra money – perhaps £20 million and perhaps through the national lottery – should be allocated to acquisitions for art galleries and museums.  But participants saw no reason why acquisitions should focus on pieces of national origin only.  Galleries and museums should leave more room for items from other cultures or of global value.  The future was just as important as the past. 

The sign of a good conference is as often the volume of material left for further discussion as the number of cut and dried conclusions.  This lively weekend was certainly an example of that.  It was a tonic for Ditchley to have such a vigorous and expert group around the table, with credit particularly due to our chairman for his wise and sympathetic guidance and for his accurate sense of where conclusions could usefully be drawn.  Everyone hoped for a follow-up in policy-making that reflected the dynamism of this debate.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression


Chairman: Sir Christopher Frayling

Chair, Arts Council England (2004-);  Rector and Vice-Provost, Royal College of Art (1996-);  Professor of Cultural History, Royal College of Art (1979-);  Trustee, Victoria & Albert Museum (1984-).  Formerly:  Chairman, Design Council (2000-04).  Broadcaster and Author.


Mr John Fraser

Master and Chair, Governing Corporation, Massey College, The University of Toronto (1995-);  Columnist, The Globa & Mail (2004-).

Ms Mary Hofstetter

President and Chief Executive Officer, The Banff Centre (2000-);  Board Member, Council for Business and Arts in Canada;  Board Member, Banff Television Foundation. 


Professor Dr Hartmut Dorgerloh

General Director, Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation, Berlin-Brandenburg (2002-);  Head of Division for Monument Conservation, Ministry of Culture & Sciences, Brandenburg (1991-).

Ms Isabel Pfeiffer-Poensgen

Secretary-General, Kulturstiftung der Länder, Berlin (2004);  Member, Advisory Council, Gotha’s Schloss Friedenstein Foundation.


Dr Joyce Nyairo                       

Senior Lecturer, Department of Literature, Theatre and Film Studies, Moi University, Nairobi;  Research Group Member, Popular Literature and its Publics in Africa (2002-). 


Lord Aldington

Chairman, Deutsche Bank London (2002-);  Member, Chairman’s Committee, LIBA (2003-);  Member, Chairman’s Committee, BBA (2003-);  Trustee, Royal Academy Trust (2003-).

Dr Robert Anderson

Fellow, Clare Hall, Cambridge (2006-);  Formerly:  Visiting Fellow, Corpus Christi College & Churchill College, Cambridge (2003-05);  Fellow, Institute of Advanced Study, Princeton (2002-03);  Director, British Museum (1992-2002);  Director, National Museums of Scotland (1985-92).

Mr Nick Bent

Special Adviser to Secretary of State for Culture, Department for Culture, Media & Sport (2003-).

Sir John Boyd

Master, Churchill College, Cambridge (1996-);  Chairman, Trustees of the British Museum (2002‑);  Wordsworth Trust (1997-).  Formerly:  Governor, Royal Shakespear Company (1996-2005);  HM Diplomatic Service (1962-96);  Ambassador to Japan (1992-96).

Ms Jessica Brennan

Artistic Administrator, BBC Young Musicians (1996-);  Trustee, Future Talent (2003-).

Lady Clifford

Author;  Trustee, Dancers Resettlement Fund, Royal Northern Ballet;  Committee Member:  LAMDA Development Fund, Friends of Manchester City Art Galleries.

Sir Timothy Clifford

Trustee:  Wallace Collection (2003-), The Hermitage Trust (1999-), The Royal Yacht Britannia (1998-).  Formerly:  Director-General, National Galleries of Scotland (2001-06), Director (1984-2001);  President, NADFAS (1995-2006).

Mr Alan Davey

Director of Arts & Culture, Department of Culture, Media & Sport (2003-).  Formerly:  Head, Arts Division, Department of Culture, Media & Sport (2001-03).

Mrs Holly Eley

Assistant Editor, The Times Literary Supplement.

The Earl of Gowrie

Adviser, Orient Global;  Chairman, The Magdi Yacoub Institute (2003-);  Chairman, Fine Art Fund (2002‑).  Formerly:  Director, Sotheby’s Holdings Inc (1985-98);  Chairman, The Arts Council of England (1994-98);  Provost, Royal College of Art (1986-95);  Chairman, The Really Useful Group (1985-90);  Minister for the Arts (1983-85).

Sir Ronald Grierson

Chairman, Advisory Board, Blackstone Group (1989-);  Chairman, Bain & Co International (1988-);  Trustee, Royal Academy (2003-);  London Symphony Orchestra (1999-);  Prince of Liechtenstein Foundation (1985-);  Voices Foundation (1987-).

Sir John Guinness

Trustee:  The National Maritime Museum (2005-), Royal Collection Trust (2001-);  Member, Advisory Council, Business Division, The Prince’s Trust (1999-).  Formerly:  Member, Export Panel, Heritage Lottery Fund (2005);  chairman, Reviewing Committee on Export of Works of Art (1995-2004).

Mr Tony Hall

Chief Executive, Royal Opera House (2001-).  Formerly:  Chief Executive, BBC New (1997-2001);  Managing Director, BBC News (1993-97);  Director, News and Current Affairs, BBC (1990-93).

Mr Roger Head

Executive Director, Open College of the Arts;  Director, Design Yorkshire Ltd;  Member Executive Group, Barnsley Centre for Creativity.

Mr Peter Hewitt

Chief Executive, Arts Council England (1998-).  Formerly:  Corporate Affairs Director, Tees HA (1997‑98);  Chief Executive, Northern Arts (1992-97).

Mr John Holden

Head of Culture, Demos (1998-);  Board Member, Clore Leadership Programme (2003-).  Formerly:  Manager and Company Secretary, Business in the Arts South (1995-98).

Mr Paul Johnson

Author.  Formerly:  Member, Cable Authority (1984-90);  Member, Royal Commission on the Press (1974‑77);  Editor, New Statesman (1965-70).

Mr David Lammy MP

Member of Parliament, Labour, Tottenham (2000-);  Minister for Culture, Department for Culture, Media & Sport (2005-).  Formerly:  Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (200-05);  Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (2002-03).

Mr Stephen Pickett

Education Director, Hallé Concerts Society (2002-);  Founding Trustee, Future Talent;  Composer.  Formerly:  Principal Contra Bassoon, Ulster Orchestra (1981-2002).

Sir Peter Stothard

Editor, The Times Literary Supplement (2002-);  Trustee, The Roundhouse Centre for Performing Arts (2002-).  Formerly:  Editor, The Times (1992-2002);  US Editor, The Times (1989-92). 

Dame Sue Street

Permanent Secretary, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (2001-).  Formerly:  Director, Criminal Policy Group, Home Office (1999-2001);  Director, Fire and Emergency Planning, Home Office (1996-99).

Mr Hugo Swire MP

Member of Parliament, Conservative, East Devon (2001-);  Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (2005-).  Formerly:  Shadow Minister fo the Arts (2004-05);  Director, Sotheby’s (1997-2001).

Professor Jeremy Treglown

Professor of English, University of Warwick (1993-);  Founder and Chair, Warwick writing Programme, University of Warwick.  Formerly:  Chairman, Panel of Judges, Booker Prize and Whitbread Book of the Year Award.  Editor, Times Literary Supplement.  Author.

Mr Colin Tweedy LVO OBE  

Chief Executive, Arts & Business (1983-);  Chairman, Comité Européen pour le Rapprochement de l’Economie et de la Culture;  Director, Oxford Stage Company;  Director, Marinsky theatre Trust (1999-);  Trustee:  Next Generation Foundation (2003-), The Ideas Foundation (2003-), Serpentine Gallery (1990-).

Mr David Verey CBE

Chairman, Blackstone Group UK (2003-);  Chairman, The Art Fund (2004-);  Special Adviser, Fresh Minds Ltd (2004-);  Director, Daily Mail & General Trust plc (2004-);  Director, Sofina SA (2004-).  Formerly:  Chairman, Board of Trustees, The Tate Gallery (1998-2004).

Lord Weidenfeld of Chelsea

Publisher;  Chairman, Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd (1948-);  Vice-Chairman EU-Israel Forum (2002-);  Board Member, Herbert Quandt Foundation, Bad Homburg (1999-);  Columnist, Die Welt & Welt am Sonntag (1999-).


Ms Victoria Todd

Director, National Campaign for the Arts (1998-);  Trustee, Akademi of Indian Dance;  Board of Director, London Dance Studio.


Mr Vahid Alaghband

Founder and Chairman, Balli Group plc;  Founder and Chairman, Iran Heritage;  Member, Clinton Global Initiative;  Trustee, Asia House, London;  International Council Member, Asia Society, New York.


Mrs Ricki Conway

Deputy chairman, Royal Ballet School;  Trustee, Royal Academy of Dance;  Honorary Trustee:  American Ballet Theatre;  Museum of Modern Art, New York;  Contemporary Arts Council;  Millennium Committee of Fine Art and Preservation of Embassies.


Dr Joyce Brown

President, Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of New York (1998-).

Ms Anne Hawley

Norma Jean Calderwood Director, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Ms Nancy Pelz-Paget

Director, Education & Society Programme, The Aspen Institute (1988-);  Consultant, Leaders for Change program & College Learning Assessment program, Council for Aid to Education.  Member, Advisory Council, The American Ditchley Foundation.


Mrs Drue Heinz

Trustee, The Royal Academy of Arts (1993-); Emeritus Trustee, The Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New York;  Hon Chairman, The Royal Oak Foundation;  Founder-Director, Hawthornden Literary Retreat;  Member, The Literary Society;  Publisher, The Paris Review.  Honorary Director, the American Ditchley Foundation.