You have to hand it to cultural historian and broadcaster Sir Christopher Frayling. He never misses a chance to state the case for the arts and design.
Yesterday morning was no exception when, invited to review the Sunday papers on BBC Radio 4‘s Broadcasting House news programme, the former Royal College of Art rector chose to highlight the number of design stories covered by the weekend media.
Given the variety of top-notch positions Frayling has held in the creative industries during his long and illustrious career, including the chairmanships of both the Arts Council and the Design Council, and the breadth of courses the RCA offers, it is no surprise that his interests within the arts are eclectic. The items he spotted in the papers ranged from fashion snippets at the start of London Fashion Week to architecture in the form of a massive Terry Farrell scheme in China and Michael Hopkins’ Velodrome for the 2012 London Olympics.
But media coverage isn’t the only thing on Frayling’s mind. He also cares passionately about the situation facing design colleges like the RCA as cuts by the coalition Government begin to bite. He used the opportunity of the prime-time broadcast to remind listeners that while they might relish the stories promoting UK design this weekend, there might not be no many in future as creative hopefuls find it harder to win college places and fund their studies, regardless of their talent.
Frayling’s arguments make good sense and his undoubted authority on the subject of art and design education will have registered the threat it is under with the Broadcasting House audience. Would that more design activists would raise their voices in the public arena in this way.
We are not short of design champions – Design Week’s Hot 50 celebrates them annually (DW 27 January). There are a clutch of individuals like Frayling, including designers like Sir Terence Conran, Sir Paul Smith and Sir John Sorrell. There are design-led clients like Virgin Atlantic and the British Heart Foundation, cultural personalities like Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway and business leaders such as another former Design Council chairman, Sir George Cox. But we need them now more than ever now to give design in all its aspects a positive public face.
Those who have locked horns with David Cameron’s Government report that there is little or nothing doing there, with only a couple of ministers ‘getting it’ about design, while education funding is a lost cause for now. The new-look Design Council will have its work cut out in its role as Government advisor to persuade Whitehall mandarins about the massive difference design can make on the economy and in tackling social ills.
We owe the council our support in this, but while its team redouble their efforts, the design community must work to its own agenda, in rethinking a slimmed down education system, in creating commercial opportunities abroad and in convincing industry, the media and the general public that design is worthwhile. We have been here before and can do it again.