Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Cultural Shock Doctrine: Arts Funding Cuts and Neoliberalism

Further to a previous post, the cuts in arts funding in the UK are starting to take effect.  The Department of Culture, Media and Sport is expected to be one of the hardest hit in the upcoming spending review and is anticipating cuts of up to 40%.  Culture-vandal Jeremy Hunt already announced the closure of the UK Film Council.  According to Trisha Andres in the Guardian, we can now add to this list arts services and schemes specifically targetted to the young such as the Arts Journalist Bursary Scheme and the Find Your Talent Scheme.

Along with cuts to University places, apprenticeships and jobs the ConDems cuts are already hitting young people hard.  Unemployment among the young (under-18s) is already 33% and for those without GCSEs it is as high as 50%.  77% of the decline in employment has been felt by young people (under-24s).  Figures here.

On the other hand we have corporate culture-vultures waiting in the wings for their share of reconstructed neoliberal art once the flames die down.  For example, Rena De Sisto at Merrill Lynch - who has the Sith-like job title of Global Arts and Culture Executive - has argued that:

"The government proposes that the arts community adopt the US-based approach to arts funding, with less dependence upon public and more upon private funding sources.  In fact, the British arts community already has a tradition of private philanthropic and corporate funding, so the difference with the US is really one of degree.  And while the US may be further along the curve, with its longer, more comfortable relationship with private funding for the arts, in both nations the arts sector can benefit from new approaches to working with corporations.  Similarly, many types of companies can and do benefit greatly from supporting the arts.  But some fundamental changes need to occur to unlock this opportunity."

De Sisto argues that the days of public support are over and that arts organisations must allow companies to "extract sound business benefits, such as access for employees, brand visibility and client outreach opportunities."  Doesn't sound much like a culture to me.

This is, of course, nothing new.  The Thatcherite attack on the cultural welfare state was always predicated on the wider attack on the post-War social democratic settlement and this represents the latest phase of neoliberal restructuring.  For example, Richard Luce was Minister for the Arts in Thatcher's government when he made this statement in 1987:

“there are still too many in the arts world who have yet to be weaned away from the welfare state mentality - the attitude that the taxpayer owes them a living.  Many have not yet accepted the challenge of developing plural sources of funding.  They give the impression of thinking that all other sources of funding are either tainted or too difficult to get.  They appear not to have grasped that the collectivist mentality of the sixties and seventies is out of date.”  (Quoted here, page 30)

This again shows the need for opponents of cuts in arts and cultural funding to join the dots and link-up with the wider campaigns to defend public services.  And ideally this would be a grassroots campaign that is led by the people who have most to lose from a barren neoliberal-corporate culture, not by Damien Hirst.

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