Last night at election hustings hosted by Sadler’s Wells, I took the opportunity to speak about the need to preserve Islington’s rich cultural heritage and ensure that arts and culture are made accessible to all Islington’s children, regardless of their background.
I spoke about the need to expand access to artistic and cultural activities in schools, while also protecting the public subsidies that have helped London’s cultural scene to develop and grow.
Islington is practically synonymous with art and culture. In addition to Sadler’s Wells itself we have the Almeida Theatre, Kings Place and the o2 academy, while the history of the borough is dominated by writers and artists, from Mary Wollestonecraft and George Orwell to Benjamin Britten and Charlie Chaplin.
With a heritage like this, I’m especially conscious of the need to make culture accessible to everyone who lives here and not just the well off. I’m proud that it was a Labour government that introduced free access to museums and art galleries, trebled the Arts Council’s funding and introduced creative partnerships in schools to connect artists, writers and musicians with local school children.
But like so much else in recent years, the arts have been feeling the squeeze as local authority budgets, which account for a major proportion of investment in the cultural and creative industries, have been stripped to the bone by the Tories, while take-up of creative subjects at GCSE level has plummeted.
The next Labour government will build on the progress of the last, focussing on expanding access by introducing a new universal right to a creative education, so that schools can no longer be graded as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted unless they provide their pupils with adequate opportunities to enjoy subjects like art and design, drama, music and dance. It’s important that we recognise and celebrate Islington’s cultural heritage, but it’s equally important that we make sure we build the right environment for the next generation of writers and artists to flourish.