Culture is a tricky word. It means different things to different groups of people. Try summing up the culture of a city with the breathtaking diversity of London and you will soon come unstuck. Where the Mayor of London is concerned, it is also a shifting, amorphous subject that changes with each incumbent’s definition (as summed up pithily by Dave Hill in the Guardian).
The Greater London Authority is not a major investor in arts and culture, so the mayor’s direct power in this area is limited. But as a lobbyist on behalf of London culture with various agencies, government bodies and international groups, the mayor is still an important figure.
Loosely defined, the mayor’s responsibility in this area is to provide support for the city’s cultural institutions, whether the Tate Modern or London Fashion Week; fund and promote specific schemes, such as the Fourth Plinth sculpture project; and, more generally, act as an ambassador for London’s culture and creative industries.
The election arrives at a crucial moment for the arts and culture in the capital. On the one hand, Arts Council and local government funding cuts are playing havoc with arts and cultural institutions from theatres to libraries, an issue compounded by drops in private sponsorship. On the other, the Olympics has provided an unrivalled spotlight for London culture, a sector which is estimated to be worth £18bn and which provides jobs for hundreds of thousands of Londoners.
Through this period of flux, the mayor’s aim is to keep up London’s global reputation as a cultural capital and to increase visitor numbers to the city. Throughout the week we’ll look at the difference in attitude to cultural policies between the two frontrunners, Ken and Boris, and look at some of the key cultural projects that have come out of City Hall.
Let us know in the comments if you think we should be covering culture and the election from specific angles.
Image by pebaline365 via the Londonist Flickr pool.