On the face of it, the arts industry in the UK seems to be thriving. Bringing in over £92bn in 2017 and growing at twice the rate of the economy at large, it’s a booming corner of the British economy. Behind this positive picture, however, the industry is anxious.
The arts have long been supported by the European Union – through schemes such as Creative Europe, Horizon 2020 and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) – to the tune of around £40m a year. Not only are we the second largest recipient of cultural funds, coming in a close second to France, we’ve also taken part in more creative partnership projects than any other EU country.
Sure, that money seems an inconsequential amount compared to the £4b that the EU invests in the UK each year. But, with the Brexit deadline fast approaching, the arts are facing having to give this money up and more. Now, organisations are left wondering what the future of the industry will look like once we’re out in the cold.
Funding for the arts is bound to be negatively impacted – it has already been at standstill for a number of years
“There is no plan for future funding”, said MacFarlane, from the Office and Cultural Affairs at the European Parliament. “How can they have so little to say about what they intend to do to make sure it isn’t badly impacted after Brexit? The word for it is ludicrous.”
MacFarlane isn’t alone in his fears. In a survey of its members, the Arts Council found that 77% of organisations were “very concerned” about the impact of Brexit on funding. Though the government has promised to underwrite any funding awarded before 29 March, there’s no word yet on how much they’ll give in years to come.
Judith Knight, Director of Artsadmin, was equally as pessimistic. “If the gloomy financial forecasts post-Brexit are remotely correct, then funding for the arts is bound to be negatively impacted – it has already been at standstill for a number of years.”
Between a rock and a hard place
Knight has a point. With Brexit fast approaching, the industry was placing its faith in a government which has stripped £400m from arts and culture budgets since 2010. Cash-strapped councils, hit by years of austerity, are often faced with touch choices. When faced with rocketing social care bills, often the only option is to slash services such as museums, libraries and art initiatives.
“There needs to be an honest discussion on what role councils are expected to play in their communities as the current trends that have seen us spend more on care and less on other services shows no signs of abating,” said Cllr Philip Atkins of the County Councils Network.
“Increasing demand for care, at a time when councils are experiencing significant funding reductions, leaves local authorities between a rock and a hard place on these hugely important but non-care services,” he added.
And, when the money stops flowing in, it’ll be regional areas that will be hardest hit. The north east of England receives £21.94 per head in EU funding, compared to £13.28 in London. It was that EU funding which, MacFarlane pointed out, brought about the cultural regeneration of cities like Manchester and Liverpool.
“That city was put into managed decline,” he said. “They basically wanted to shut Liverpool down. The EU invested into Liverpool and brought about its cultural renaissance.”
Because we’ve never noticed it, we aren’t aware of how much we stand to lose
Much of that revitalisation happened in the city’s newly refurbished theatres, with the Everyman and Playhouse theatres and the Royal Court Theatre pocketing £7.3m between them for renovation projects. These theatres have become vital hubs for creativity in the north, with 95% of their shows created, produced and rehearsed in Liverpool.
“Regional areas have been underinvested in for quite some time now and the EU has gone some way to counterbalance that,” MacFarlane adds. “A number of projects that simply would not have gotten off the ground have been able to do so. Because we’ve never noticed it, we aren’t aware of how much we stand to lose.”
It’s not just the north that is worried, though. Cornwall has also been a big recipient of EU money, taking in around £60m each year. Supported by the ERDF, much of the funding has gone towards transforming spaces for creative and cultural institutions.
Hall for Cornwall is one such institution, a historic local theatre currently undergoing an £18.5m makeover. With few big businesses based in Cornwall, the Hall has relied on the UK government and the EU for funding, with the ERDF stumping up £2.1m. The Hall’s chief executive has now joined many locals in expressing concern that, after Brexit, Cornwall may find itself marginalised when it comes to funding.
Burning bridges and closing doors
When it comes to Brexit, the UK arts industry stands to lose more than just funding. Brexit is also threating to damage the UK’s international standing as a leader in the arts. Projects funded by the EU have long been required to have a pan-European or multi-state dimension to get cash, and the UK is frequently the lead partner in consortiums or projects.
“It means we have influence, it means we’re leading the cultural debate in the EU at the moment, we’re setting the agenda, we’re building the skills of other member states”, MacFarlane said. “It’s hard to know once we’re out how we’ll have the same impact if we’re only being funded domestically.”
Knight shares MacFarlane’s fears. “It’s not just the financial impact that will be so detrimental to UK artists and companies. It is about the relationships, the connections, the partnerships, the shared values, the inspiration, the knowledge – the value most of our European counterparts put on the arts. How is it possible that we are closing the door to this?”
It’s hard to know once we’re out how we’ll have the same impact if we’re only being funded domestically
As Knight explains, the UK is already artistically isolated compared to other European states. Brexit is only going to exacerbate that. Even now, international arts festivals such as Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Festival d’Avignon, Theater der Welt are seeing very few UK companies on their programmes.
Pan-European partnerships also mean pan-European employees. The loss of EU partnerships as well the potential end of freedom of movement could mean a mass exodus of creative employees, taking a big chunk out of the arts’ profitability.
As our standing diminishes, so will our opportunities in Europe. When it comes to short-term projects and tours, visas, border checks and tariffs could make it harder than ever for British performers to secure tours in the EU. Artsadmin even predicts that touring costs could jump by 10-15% with all the extra red tape.
This loss of tour income represents a major financial blow for many UK organisations, explains Knight. “It is hard enough now to bring in international artists, but are we now going to have to apply for visas for European artists and performers too?”
Low on the agenda
On the freedom of movement issue there is a potential fix. The Musicians’ Union has suggested the introduction of an affordable, multi-entry and admin-light ‘touring visa’ which would mitigate the impact on artists and performers. For assurances on visas and funding to become reality, thought, the arts need government action, or any government attention at all.
“We seem to be way down on the Government’s agenda. There have been lots of meetings and conversations… but I think the truth is the majority of MPs don’t consider the arts to be a priority, despite the fact that creative industries are the fastest growing sector in the economy,” exclaimed Knight.
The cultural institutions themselves do know this… they’ve been saying this from the very beginning
Until the government does begin to take notice, then, the arts face layers of worry about where the money will come from. Funding is only the beginning of the problem. Without the EU, the arts have no way of knowing where the money will go, who it will affect most, or if the money will come at all.
“The cultural institutions themselves do know this, if you look at the Creative Industries federation they’ve been saying this from the very beginning”, MacFarlane said. The question now is whether the government has been listening, and if they’ll act in time.