Simon Haskel on understanding the importance of music to both our economy and social mobility
Later today in the Lords, Peers will again be debating the role of the arts within the UK economy – and quite right too. Our cultural and creative sector, as well as raising the quality of our lives, helps grow the economy. Four out of ten leisure visitors to our country cite heritage and culture as the primary motivation for their visit. In 2011, some 10 million inbound visitors engaged in some form of arts related activity.
Today’s debate is about music and tourism, and my particular interest is classical music. There are classical music festivals all over the UK, with one taking place in Manchester at the moment. The Proms start tomorrow. And there are festivals coming up in Edinburgh and other major cities, all of which will benefit from attracting people who would not normally visit.
I particularly want to sing the praises of Aldeburgh Music. As well as organising a world class festival that attracts tourists for two weeks each year, the organisers have made Aldeburgh a year round tourist attraction by organising many other music events. A proms season for holiday-makers during August, residencies and master classes, orchestral and ensemble training: each and all of these involve concerts which themselves become a tourist attraction because of their excellence. To get a measure of this, the number of tickets sold during the festival is 25,000 while the number sold during the year is 100,000.
Of course tourists would come to Aldeburgh anyway – it is a charming seaside town in an area of outstanding natural beauty on the Suffolk coast. But its relative isolation, tricky to get to quickly by road or rail, means that it doesn’t have the amenities of other towns, let alone our those of our big cities. Until recently, to compensate for this, the East of England Development Agency (EEDA) provided the co-ordinating structure with all the other organisations essential to manage music tourism.
In the middle of organising the current year long Britten Centenary event, EEDA was suddenly abolished. So in addition to planning the Festival, the Britten event and others, a new destination management organisation (DMO) had to be set up. Aldeburgh Music must be one of the few, and perhaps the first arts organisation to become involved in setting up a DMO. The Arts Council is now providing money to help boost tourism to destinations that provide visitors with world class cultural experiences, and so I hope a lesson has been learned.
There is another reason why we should support these activities – one that should be welcomed by all Labour supporters. Music has shown itself to be an extraordinary driver of social mobility.
Lord Simon Haskel is a backbench Labour Peer in the House of Lords
Published 11th July 2013