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Dangerous Times for Arts and Culture

Posted on 7 October 2015

At the beginning of the summer two major reports came out that trumpeted the economic value of arts and culture to the UK economy.

  • Every £1 of public investment sees £5 returned to the Treasury in taxes
  • Total public funding for arts & culture including museums and libraries represents 0.7% of total public spend in England yet contributes £7.7 billion GVA
  • Arts and Culture are leading players in “brand” and international standing: According to the GfK-Anholt Nation Brands Index Britain was the 3rd best nation in terms of having an exciting contemporary culture and has been a consistently high performer in that index32. The ‘Anholt-GfK Roper Nations Brands Index’, which ranks the global reputation of fifty countries by looking at perceptions of nations in the six areas: exports, governance, culture, people, tourism and immigration/investment, puts Britain in fourth place.
  • There are strong links between cultural growth and activity and the growth of regional economies and creative industry employment. Liverpool attracted 9.7million additional visits during its time as EU Capital of Culture, generating an economic impact of £753.8 million. Since the announcement of wining UK City of Culture, Hull has had £20 million of positive media coverage resulting in a 15% increase in hotel income and a turnaround in retail. The University of Hull saw an 8% increase in students for its cultural programmes.

*Arts & Growth Report commissioned by Creative Industries Federation July 2015; Contribution of the Arts & Culture Sector to the National Economy Report – commissioned by Arts Council England July 2015. See the report here.

Recently we’ve published our own Annual Report which is necessarily upbeat and positive, broadcasting how successful we are at producing and presenting a vibrant, varied and quality offering of theatre and community arts activities to our City and Region.

We are a business in the business of being seen to be successful so that we will continue to attract customers and funders. This was also the motivation behind the major reports, with the view to persuading the Government that it makes economic sense to continue to invest public money in arts and culture.

Ironically though our success stories are coming back to bite us. These reports are designed to show that investing in arts and culture helps to boost economic growth. The flip side is that reducing yet further funding to arts and culture will have a damaging effect on economic growth.

Somehow this message is being completely misinterpreted and to dangerous effect. Despite the very big cuts already received across arts and culture, Government are intimating yet more cuts are coming, of between 25% and 40% via the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and also another round of cuts to Local Authority (LA) spending. The cuts to LA spending are a double whammy for arts organisations outside London who usually receive funding from their LA (For some reason London local authorities do not invest in arts and culture. Odd that).

Government clearly believe that arts and cultural organisations still have some fat to shed, and can replace funding cuts from new sources of income. Government credits us that having done it before, we can do it again. But knowing what we’ve had to do to keep going, I can safely say that it is a trick that cannot be repeated. Those of us still standing may look robust but, like that game where players remove wooden bricks from a tower while trying to leave it standing, we’re now full of holes. So at some point the removal of another brick of funding is going to undermine us sufficiently to shatter the structure.

The trouble is of course no-one believes us. The trouble is there has to be a major casualty before we are believed. The trouble is that there are other services competing for the declining pot of funding. And yet. Funding arts and culture returns more to the economy than it costs (£5 for every £1 funding) which means fund arts and culture AND create the means to fund more nurses, teachers and social workers. Conversely, when funding cuts force the collapse of an arts organisation, an entire community will be severely affected by the loss of that arts organisation. Can you imagine what it would mean for a city like Coventry (11th largest in the UK) if its only producing Theatre had to close its doors? What it would be like for the businesses here?

You can be sure that we are working our socks off to try to ensure the Belgrade is not one of the casualties, but the root cause of this impending catastrophe is how Government is setting its budget. If you care about you, your family and your friends having access to quality arts and culture in your city and region; if want your City to be a place that buzzes with entertainment and excitement and attracts businesses to the locale, please write to your MP today. Please tell him or her that arts and culture must be protected in the current Comprehensive Spending Review. That it makes economic sense to protect that funding. And more importantly, that arts and cultural organisations make a place worth living and working in.

You can find details for your local MP here.

Executive Director, Joanna Reid

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