Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Cultural Shock Doctrine Round-up

A round-up of news on cultural funding post-Spending Review 

1. How do you define 'front line' services in the arts? 

Charlotte Higgins' made a great speech at the Paul Hamlyn foundation awards for artists and composers. Here is an abridged version: 

The great artistic achievements of this country don't start in our rightly celebrated national institutions – the Royal Opera House or the National Theatre or Tate Modern. They start in bedrooms in Bradford and garrets in Glasgow and classrooms in Coventry. They start in grubby student accommodation and after-school clubs and through the energy of surprising and inspiring teachers. People become artists because of a complicated web of interconnecting threads. What happens in your school is hugely important. What happens in your university or conservatoire or art school is hugely important – and we are hearing terrible intimations of what might happen to funding for the arts in higher education. What happens in your town – the local museum, the library, the theatre – is hugely important. Our Government is happy to celebrate our great national institutions but it needs to protect the delicate network that supports them. It needs to provide the solid framework around which enlightened philanthropy can work.

Talking of the spending review... Well, George Osborne's announcing a cut of 15% to the arts really was quite breathtaking, wasn't it – when the actual cut to Arts Council England's budget was 30%. Jeremy Hunt promised us fresh ideas as culture secretary, but I don't think anyone anticipated an idea as creative as this: a completely new way of describing the national arts budget that no one had ever thought up before.

So: Arts Council England is going to be cut by an overall 30%, but Jeremy Hunt has asked them to pass on cuts of only 15% to the "front line".

Asked to define "front line", Ed Vaizey, the culture minister, said that the organisations that the Arts Council regularly funds are "front line" and everything else is not.

According to that definition, the funding that supports national touring for opera and art shows is not "front line". A scheme that offers parents interest-free loans to buy musical instruments for their children is not "front line". Manchester international festival, which has commissioned artists such as Jeremy Deller, Steve McQueen and Joe Duddell is not front line.

As Higgins has argued in another article, "These cuts within higher education cannot be seen in isolation from those to culture in general: to museums, to the theatres, orchestras and other arts organisations up and down the land and to local authority cultural budgets."

2. Boris and Cumberbatch get in on the action

An article in the Evening Standard details Boris Johnson and Benedict Cumberbatch's warnings that private sponsorship will not make up for the massive cuts in cultural budgets. Indeed, they actually fell by 8% last year, apparently.

(Johnson worried enough about re-election to have momentary memory laspes that he is a Tory?)

3. Where will the next generation of artists come from? Not from Somerset.

Tory Shire cuts 100% of its arts subsidy. Somerset council voted to end £160,000 of direct grants to 10 organisations, including theatres and a film production company, as part of a £43m programme of cuts across the services.

Charlie Dearden, director of Bridgwater Arts Centre, said 25,000 people were participating in arts and media projects in the county of Somerset, half of them located in deprived areas.

4. And the winner is...

According to the Mail (and reported in BFI Watch) the Government has announced that what remains of the UK FIlm Council's responsibilities to fund film in the UK will be transferred to the British Film Institute.

I'm not sure what to make of this last one yet. It effectively puts institutionalised film policy back where it was before all this Film Council nonsense. But it seems unlikely that this will result in a return to the days of the Production Board. The wider situation has changed - not least because of National Lottery funding. The BFI has changed too. So how will it cope?

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