One of the cuts concealed in Alastair Darling’s budget yesterday was a staggering £60 million in funds earmarked for the arts slashed from the Department for Culture Media and Sports 2010-11 budget. In addition, £2.2 billion is to be diverted from the National Lottery’s culture and heritage endowment to the Olympics. This is money that organizations such as Arts Council England, Heritage Lottery Fund and the UK Film Council have been benefiting from in recent years. It gets worse, the £130 million that has been cut from the English Heritage budget over the last 12 years will now suffer a further £20 million efficiency savings that has been imposed on the DCMS grant-in-aid budget for 2009-10 including £4 million from the Arts Council England budget.
In response, Arts and cultural leaders today met in the British Museum’s Great Court to discuss the future of culture in Britain. The group included The Tate’s Nicholas Serota, the British Museum’s Neil MacGregor, the National Theatre’s Sir Nicholas Hytner, the former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, actor Griff Rhys Jones and Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry. The group issued a warning that Britain’s economic strength could be “shattered” if funding to the sector is cut.
A Tory victory in the upcoming election does not promise a better outcome. Shadow culture spokesman Jeremy Hunt has admitted the arts would not be given special protection under the Tories. It is already common knowledge that the Tories plan to divert funds earmarked for Contemporary Art into the preservation of historical buildings.
Cultural Capital: A Manifesto for the Future, presented by a coalition of 17 bodies from Arts Council England to Visit London, argues that any reduction in public investment would make poor economic sense. Mr Macgregor said the arts in Britain was an “enormous phenomenon” in public life. The entire spend on culture represents only one percent of the budget for the NHS so any cuts could scarcely benefit other areas of public life but could severely damage Britain’s thriving culture. The manifesto says investment has created a huge appetite for culture and generated billions for the economy.
Nicholas Serota writing in The Evening Standard says “The cultural sector gives Britain an international edge as an exciting and creative place to live work and do business”. He writes of the financial successes of Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture, which generated £800 million for the local economy and attracted 27 percent more visitors to the city; while the 2009 Manchester International Festival generated £35.7 million. What is more fifteen years of public investment and lottery support for all aspects of Britain’s cultural life has created new buildings, new education programmes, new work and new talent. This should be sustained.
It is likely that things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. Prepare for charging at public museums and galleries and institutions like the ICA already suffering serious management problems to implode.
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