Arts Cuts: the verdict.

cuts puppet run away

Image shared by Articulate Matter on Flickr via a Creative Commons License

So you may have seen the http://supportthearts.co.uk site that I set up in the run up to the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR). It was developed in response to my and others’ disappointment with the approach of other campaigns that only approached one side of the debate, and often in an alienating way. Well the Review has passed, and the repercussions of the announced cuts are beginning to emerge. I was asked by Arts Professional to comment on them, and I thought it was worth reproducing my responses here.

What impact will the cuts to ACE and the DCMS have on the arts infrastructure?

I think that two things are going to suffer most in the light of 29% cuts to ACE, nearly 25% to local government and 100% to non STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) teaching in Higher Education; firstly regional and community theatre – much regional and community theatre relies on investment from local authorities, which facing massive job losses and the pressure to privatise their services will be hard pressed to see the arts as an investment. And secondly: innovation and education; Churchill famously said “without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.” Cuts to the higher education system and a subsidised arts sector stripped to the bone and forced to rely on private investment will get us both coming and going.

What’s your worst fear, your highest hope, and the scenario(s) you think is/are most likely?

My worst fear within the industry is the fetishisation of the 80s ethic. Many people who found the turn towards box-ticking repellant seem to hold up the days of living on a shoe-string, making urgent, simple pieces – generally whilst living on the dole – as a paragon of creativity. This is not to say that shoe-string work isn’t valuable, but art and artists are; as a country we should acknowledge that. We also need to acknowledge how such a fiscal environment mean people with caring responsibilities (often women), or from underprivileged backgrounds, find themselves unable to consider making art – we can’t afford to lose those voices.

My greatest hope is that the industry stands tall and we challenge ACE and the community to revise how it thinks about funding art. Just as in the greatest period of national debt the big idea of the welfare state was born – I believe the arts need to think big ideas about how and what we fund. Bureaucracy has its place, but we need to tackle the perception (or reality) that box ticking gets you funding – how people are assessed – how many 100% funding is offered to new innovative work, work with RFOs to work out how best to absorb their cuts and assess them, shift focus to compensate for the greater losses of the regions, move away from the big buildings (the RSC, the ROH and the National could well consider getting their budgets from Tourism) look at digital technology as a cheaper way of doing certain things, and create a nationwise community of mutual assets – space, and expertise – to fill as many gaps as possible. We also need to look into measuring the impact of disinvestment in the arts on the economy and society. Dealing in hard facts is repugnant to some, but they don’t half help when lobbying politicians. The most important thing is to keep art alive (and in all the UK) so that as we lobby and state our case we have something to take forward – not a corpse to resuscitate.

I hesitate to suggest what I think is more likely. Having felt incredibly let down by the tone and the content of the ‘Big Artist’ run I Value the Arts Campaign I hope that the arts sector can be brave, bold, intelligent, and think beyond status. We need to think outside of the sector, think politician-speak and normal-person, and act innovatively.

How do you think ACE will/can reconcile its function as an arm’s length body with the Govt’s 50% reduction in admin costs order with its duty to fight for and protect the arts? Is there a split between what ACE can/wants to do to cope with its budget cuts and what Govt is demanding of it?

This was a particularly malicious move in the CSR – firstly it sound a lot better to claim only 15% of cuts will effect the ‘front-line’. Secondly, to call for the cuts to affect RFOs in a lesser manner than other investment and the ACE’s internal budget and in a way that is almost wholly unsustainable (what organization can take such a large cut – with little time to re-structure and transition – and still work well?) is aimed directly at destabilising the arts sector. Either ACE reduces its function messily and in a highly damaging way, or they go against the government’s stipulation (which they had no right to make) and shift the balance – meaning art-makers and RFOs turn against ACE, and not the government. Project ‘scapegoat’ works just as well with ACE as it does with the Lib Dems shoved onto Newsnight.

How can ACE deal with this? Openness, honesty, and consultation. A bit of the community from my previous answer, combined with a joined-up approach to digital technology might mean ACE can pull through with artists on-side. The way to fuck ’em is to survive.

I didn’t say the last bit in the AP correspondance, unfortunately it only just occurred to me. My ideas here were particularly informed by conversations with Alex Kelly and Lucy Elinson – worth chatting to both.

On the subject of community, I’m hearing whispers of meetings happening across the country, the one I’ve heard most about was held in the Shunt space in Bermondsey, there was one the same day as the CSR, and more to follow, as soon as I know the date/time/place I’ll pop it up here. I’m struggling for being in Leicestershire, but have heard of Leeds and NE meet-ups too, following the #artsfunding hashtag on Twitter is a good plan.

I’d also be interested to know what you think I should do with http://supportthearts.co.uk, now? Leave it stand? Develop into a more fully fledged site that could hold details of local meetings like the Coalition of Resistance one? Or something else?

Coda:

Wondering what all the fuss is about arts funding? Check out http://supportthearts.co.uk and watch the video for more on the very real economic and social losses made through arts cuts.

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