Gesture Politics and the Arts

Price of loveImage shared via a creative commons license on flickr by VampzX_23

“According to UNESCO the UK is the world’s largest exporter of cultural goods. Now there’s something. When have we been the world’s largest exporter of anything recently? And this is achieved with a tax payer investment which is 0.1 percent of the recent HBOS bailout. Not only that, with this tax payer investment we generate more economic activity than tourism, and we do this without a bonus culture, and without a ‘talent drain’. Now is the time for banks to have artists on their boards so they can understand how to use public money properly.”

Talking Birds are an awesome company, for more reasons than the above statement. I think every theatre, arts and culture company should have this on their website. Talking Birds did so just after the credit crunch hit.

Lots of blog posts are flying around at the moment about funding. Arts companies, used to the abuses of Tory rule, are battening down the hatches and readying their defences. Then, today came that expected announcement:

“Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt has been appointed as Culture Secretary – and he has already signalled that the arts are in line for up to £66 million worth of cuts as part of the drive to reduce the national debt.” (Source)

As DanRebellato Retweeted “So much for Vaizey’s ‘the Arts are safe with us'”.

This is a foolish move in the extreme. The Arts are largely seen as an easy cut, not necessary, and granted health and education sound much more important… if you believe the arts aren’t a part of either. However the truth is worse than that, the truth is that this action is at best, gesture politics, and at worst, extremely damaging to the economy. As Marcus Romer points out here

Arts funding spend [only] amounts to 7pence out of every £100.00 of public spending”

The actual amount of public spending accounted for by the arts is minuscule. And then there’s the money it brings in. Following a recent question to Ben Bradshaw (the previous Secretary of State for Culture) Alexander Kelly of Third Angel found that:

“Last year, at London theatres alone, VAT on tickets generated £75m in income. Arts Council England invests just over £100m in theatre.

One way of reading this would be to say that the government doesn’t subsidise theatre, theatre more than pays for itself out of VAT alone”

It doesn’t just pay for itself, it brings money in, especially with the VAT hike that’s largely expected.

“The DCMS also point out the wider, and better known, arguments for seeing subsidy of the arts as investment that produces a massive return.

“However the economic impact of theatre and the subsidised arts is much greater than just VAT. The creative industries, including a number of subsidised sectors, account for 6.2% of the UK’s Gross Value Added (GVA), £16.6bn in exports, and 2m jobs.” (source)

All this on an investment of 0.1% of what we gave to HBOS during the banking crisis, for an amount that wouldn’t even register on this infogram of UK money

When Winston Churchill was criticised for investing n the arts during heavily increasing war time debt he simply replied ‘people need something to come back to’. The arts are how a culture examines itself. The science of humanity. The arts and play are at the very root of our inventive potential, and increasingly important to the future of science and tech as the areas between arts and tech are blur in the light of a connected world. By cutting the arts budget so drastically, not only are you removing one of the soundest and most profitable investments a country can make monetarily, but culturally too.

Where else should cuts be made? How about Trident, for a start, I hear that’s worth £130billion, the ACE entire subsidy is 0.076% of that.

#dontdoitnick #dontcutartsfunding

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21 Responses to “Gesture Politics and the Arts”

  1. Bennycrime May 13, 2010 at 1:26 pm #

    If they cut arts I will go mental. More mental than normal. Crime SMASH!
    Intelligent and well thought out comment brought to you by Crime Enterprise Est. 1pm this afternoon.

  2. Hannah Nicklin May 13, 2010 at 1:34 pm #

    Wins best comment ever.

  3. Quietriot_girl Elly May 13, 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    Brilliant post and so well researched!
    I did a phd on the ‘creative industries’ and ever since they
    were made a government policy focus in 1999 it was clear
    that the arts were under attack. ‘Creative industries’ are all about
    individual entrepreneurship and personal profit. They do not allow
    ‘the arts’ and their wider vision of culture and social capital and actual
    capital, into their definitition, even if they pay lip-service to inclusion.
    A good writer on this is Franco Bianchini (1993) and also Cities for the Many Not the Few by Ash Amin et al (er not sure date). Fight the Power!

  4. Kyle May 13, 2010 at 2:50 pm #

    Whilst there are many areas that can (and need) cutting back the arts are not on that list – and not by a long shot. Sadly they will bear some savage cuts, because they will evoke less emotion than benefits or NHS cuts amongst the general public. And those are the voters that the Lib Dems want to win at the next election.

    The Tories will propose these cuts for the same reason, and the fact that many of them benefit from enjoyment of the arts (far more than most Labour supporters) they are also willing and able to pay more to do so – and generally don’t see this as being a problem.

    The Labour party would’ve been no better at protecting the arts for the same reasons – the cuts in spending were coming no matter who won the election – it’s just a shame that they will look to make such small ones, when there are much bigger ones needed.

  5. Tim Rutherford-Johnson May 13, 2010 at 3:06 pm #

    Excellent post, thank you.

    The other sign that already has me worried about Jeremy Hunt’s appointment is that he is minister for Culture, Media and Sport, and the Olympics. The arts are only one quarter of his brief.

  6. Hannah Nicklin May 14, 2010 at 3:32 pm #

    @Elly, thanks for the comment, will have to check out that book!

    @Kyle, I didn’t talk about the Labour government at all, largely because they are not the ones doing the cutting, it is the Tory government that we now deal with, and that now needs convincing of the facts.

    @ Tim, yes that is definitely worrying. They seem to be lumping together things they don’t seem to think important – see the equalities position.

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  1. Hannah Nicklin » Gesture Politics and the Arts « TWP 2009's Blog - May 13, 2010

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  2. Hannah Nicklin » Rain Rain, Come Again. - May 31, 2010

    […] Perhaps a focus on the harder times that are upcoming with regards to the Tory-Lib Dem arts cuts. I’ll have a think about that. And if you think I have a particular clear message that […]

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