There is an inscription at the entrance to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery which reads ‘By the gains of Industry we promote Art’.
This is reflected in the city’s coat of arms, featuring a man holding a hammer symbolising industry and a female figure, holding a book and artist’s palette, to represent the arts.
The gender roles are now outdated, but our city’s insignia makes a vital point about the importance of the arts to civic life in Birmingham.
This tradition of making arts central to our city life is still strong today. For example, Birmingham currently chairs the EUROCITIES cultural forum, the voice of cities to the European Parliament and Commission which influences European cultural policy.
It is no coincidence that our first showpiece event as Birmingham prepares to host the Commonwealth Games in four years’ time celebrated this city’s culture. The handover ceremony harnessed the youthful creativity and diversity that makes Birmingham a cultural force to be reckoned with.
In the city I lead, we believe culture is the lifeblood of a vibrant society, expressed in the many ways we tell our stories, celebrate, remember the past, entertain ourselves and imagine the future.
Culture isn’t just a ‘nice to have’ it has an impact on individuals’ sense of self-worth, wellbeing and happiness. It also plays an important role in developing community cohesion and fostering tolerance.
The economic case for culture is strong. In 2015, combined creative industries in the West Midlands were worth £3.6bn GVA to the economy, that’s an average of £620 per person
But, since 2010 the government’s public spending cuts have inevitably hit arts funding. Councils have less money to spend on the arts. However, we’re not giving up culture, we continue to value and celebrate it has on so many aspects of our lives.
I agree with former Arts Council chair Sir Peter Bazalgette who, when asked if as a nation we could afford to support the arts, replied ‘we can’t afford not to’.
The critical question is how we make sure they grow in a time of declining national and local government funding.
That is why the Cultural Cities Enquiry is so important and why both myself and my fellow Core City leaders and mayors are supporting it.