‘Accessing culture is a right for all’: London mayor Sadiq Khan on art’s place in the UK capital

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Today at Frieze London, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, will launch “London Creates”. This promotional campaign will “celebrate the capital’s world-leading cultural and creative industries following a challenging few years due to the impact of the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis”. Its initial focus is the promotion of London’s visual arts sector, with the ambition to extend to other areas of the arts in which London leads: fashion, film, theatre and music. To mark the launch, we asked Khan to share his London cultural highlights.

The Art Newspaper: Which artist(s) do you think has best captured the spirit of London, past and present?

Sadiq Khan: I love the bright, vibrant colours of artists like Yinka Ilori or Camille Walala, who capture the capital’s spirit of creativity, diversity and inclusion, the sense of pride found in our great city, and how in London you are free to be who you want to be.

I was very proud to see a Londoner, Sonia Boyce, become the first Black woman to represent the UK at the Venice Biennale and win the most prestigious award for her installation Feeling Her Way. I also enjoyed Steve McQueen’s portraits of thousands of schoolchildren from across London at Tate Britain. How cool for all those children to be featured at the Tate! It’s a visual representation of the future of our city.

There are also countless artists who capture our city’s proud history of activism. Last year, as part of my London Borough of Culture in Lewisham, I attended the launch of Dryden Goodwin’s Breathe:2022, which was a multi-site commission combining drawings of six Lewisham residents and clean-air campaigners. It was a great example of how art isn’t just there to entertain, but to educate us, too.

Tell us about your first London museum experience

On rare days off, my dad would take my siblings and me to the museums in South Kensington. We’d hop on the bus full of energy and head for a full day out, enjoying the interactive and educational exhibitions at the Science Museum, and then marvelling at the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum. There’s a reason the Natural History Museum has been the most visited indoor attraction in the UK for a second year in a row.

What favourite posters or art have you hung on your walls?

David Shrigley’s London: Everyone Welcome is proudly displayed on the wall of my office at City Hall. One of the first things I did as mayor was launch the “London Is Open” campaign to show that after the bitterly disappointing Brexit referendum our city would still be a beacon of hope, a city that is open to business, culture and talent from around the world. As part of that campaign, with Art on the Underground and Transport for London, we launched a major new series of works by top UK and international artists, which featured across the Tube network. One memorable moment was joining Shrigley outside Southwark tube station to hand out “London is Open” Oyster Card holders to Londoners.

What do you think every child needs to feel that they have true cultural capital?

Accessing culture in London shouldn’t be a privilege for a wealthy few, but a right for all. That’s why we are doing so much to ensure young Londoners can access culture through initiatives such as the London Borough of Culture. Since its launch in 2017, the programme has been a catalyst for creativity across the city, brought people together in pride and celebration, and provided a springboard for boroughs’ long-term cultural ambitions.

Each year I also look forward to seeing the Fourth Plinth Schools Awards Exhibition at City Hall. The competition is open to all London students aged 5-15, and has inspired over 30,000 entries from schoolchildren across every London borough to create art and think about what it can say about our city.

It’s also really important that children have access to a proper creative education. Culture has a remarkable power to bring people together, broaden horizons and even change lives. That’s why it’s so vital that all young Londoners have the opportunity to access London’s incredible cultural offering.

Where’s the best place in London to spend time?

I still say that the best view in the world is sitting on the top deck of a London bus. As a kid, I remember running upstairs to the top deck of the No. 44 bus from Tooting to Victoria that my dad used to drive.

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