Theatre Critic and Journalist

Arts funding cuts: Everyone must stick together

Arts funding cuts: Everyone must stick together

Published on the Guardian Theatre Blog, 29.03.2011

At 10am on Wednesday, when the national portfolio organisations are announced, we will discover the initial fallout of the coalition government’s cuts to the UK arts sector. For the first time, it will offer a concrete picture of a 15% cut to frontline arts organisations. It will also allow a first real insight into the Arts Council’s collective state of mind, as outlined in the recently published manifesto Achieving Great Art for Everyone.

That said, it’s worth remembering that the announcement does not mark the full extent of the cuts. The Arts Council still has to turn its attentions on to itself, halving administration costs in order to make up a total cut of 29%. Local authorities will continue to announce decisions about their respective cuts to cultural funding and it will be a while before the actual effect of increased competition for the Lottery-funded – and thus protected – Grants for the Arts scheme becomes apparent.

However, the naming of the national portfolio organisations also marks a significant turning point for the campaign against funding cuts. Afterwards, the arts sector must turn its attentions from attempts to overturn funding cuts – however wrongheaded they may be – and start thinking about the future. In other words, the question must be “what next?”

It’s a vital question and now, thanks to an open What’s Next event held at the Young Vic on Friday, a direct one. In a letter signed by 26 cultural leaders, including the Michael Boyd, Jude Kelly, Richard Eyre and Alistair Spalding, the event called on the prime minister to engage in discussion about the government’s longer-term proposals for funding the arts.

Friday’s event sought to make clear the value and social contribution of the arts and highlight the erosion of such services that will accompany any cuts imposed. The picture that emerged was of an arts sector with a wide network of bonds to other services; one that engages and overlaps with education, health and justice systems. I fear that such services will disintegrate after the cuts, as both sides retreat to solidify their core services.

However, though there was dismay about the current funding situation, its necessity was taken at face value. What’s Next focused instead on the implications of that necessity. If these cuts are austerity measures aimed solely at reducing the deficit, surely it is logical that – in more financially secure times – funding will return to previous levels. At least that is the theory.

Today, with every organisation equal in uncertainty, such a collaborative campaign seems easy to mount; it becomes a different prospect once individual organisations learn their individual fates. From that point, those most affected will be worst positioned to campaign for increased funding, given their need to adapt, both financially and structurally, in order just to survive. In which case, any campaign for future increases must come from those with least to regain.

So, come Wednesday, those organisations that find themselves more fortunate than expected must not simply sigh with relief: they must also take responsibility for the wider arts sector and continue to argue for increased funding. Everyone else – people who aren’t so lucky – will be depending on them.

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