The revelation that Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, is proposing cuts of 50% to staffing and overheads at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has been greeted with gasps of incredulity from the arts community. Cuts in Whitehall may seem far removed from the daily lives and concerns of the individual artist. But against the backdrop of cuts to Arts Council England and to other areas of central and local government expenditure, it is ominous news.
Artists survive within a mixed economy of opportunities and practical support, much of it predicated on state investment. Artists’ studio groups up and down the country often rely to some degree on public subsidy; many artists work in schools, Further Education and Higher Education, where retrenchment looms; the regeneration schemes which created opportunities for public art are likely to disappear; and it goes without saying that there will be fewer commissions and exhibitions, as funding for our gallery system diminishes.
In the long run, commercial galleries will also lose out, because innovative emergent practice so often finds early support and encouragement within the subsidised sector. And, of course, the impact of public sector cuts on the wider economy will mean that there is simply less money to spend on art.
Ellie Harrison General Election Drinking Game, 2010
Is philanthropy the answer?
Philanthropy, we are told, is the answer. Well, maybe it will work for the Royal Opera House, which last year raised no less than £17m in charitable income through donations, legacies and other sources. But there are no philanthropists waiting in the wings to fund the regional arts infrastructure on which so many artists depend. The civic pride which inspired the creation of our major museums and galleries is largely a thing of the past and the absence of regional government (compounded by the prospective abolition of the Regional Development Agencies) leaves the UK in a much weaker position than many of its European counterparts.
We are told, however, that our creative sector is one of the fastest growing areas of the economy. Before the election Jeremy Hunt made much of the fact that our creative ‘edge’ gives us a competitive advantage over other countries and is widely perceived as a fundamental element of our national ‘brand’. Yet the government so far has failed to grasp the crucial connection between artists and the wider creative economy, the importance of the visual imagination as a resource which has commercial as well as individual benefit.
Roy Isaacs Redundant, 2007
What can we do to avert these reckless cuts or, at any rate, to mitigate their worst effects?
We can put pressure on MPs to lobby on our behalf, for there are many, even within the coalition government, who are privately concerned about the speed and scale of the cuts that are being proposed.
We can also respond to the DCMS consultation about lottery shares which closes on 21st August 2010. In theory lottery funding will flow back into the arts sector once the Olympics are over, but only if the consultation currently underway makes a compelling case for this to happen.
Arts Council England has developed an advocacy toolkit which marshals factual evidence about the importance of the arts to the economy, society and the individual, pointing out for example that:
- The arts budget is tiny, costing 17p a week per person - less than half the price of a pint of milk.
- The UK has the largest cultural economy in the world relative to GDP.
- Arts and culture are central to tourism in the UK, representing 3.7% of GDP and directly employed 1.4 million people in 2007.
- For every £1 that the Arts Council invests, an additional £2 is generated from private and commercial sources
Nick Sayers To Live: The estate agent board dome, 2007 - 2010
Inevitably, however, these arguments focus on the big picture and institutions, rather than individual art forms and practitioners. One of the most remarkable achievements of the last 15-20 years has been the groundswell of artist-led activity in many parts of the UK and the concomitant growth of independent production outside mainstream organisations. Without this vital test-bed of activity, it is hard to know where future experimentation and innovation will come from.