Thursday, 21 October 2010
The Government, as we all know by now, has announced massive cuts in spending, including drastic and unprecedented cuts in the culture sector. Roughly speaking, this means cuts in the order of 50% of administrative cuts for the Arts Council, 30% of their overall funding, and 15% cuts in the regularly funded organisations (RFOs). The British Film Institute will experience 15% cut in funding. This comes on top of the abolition of the UK Film Council announced in the summer. What this means on the ground for arts and cultural organisations, to be honest, I don’t think anyone really knows yet. Of course, we all know it’s bad - it’s the extent of the damage done which is still unclear.
This comes within the context of cuts across the board in all sectors, and which is part of a wave of governments retreating throughout Western Europe. This consensus has been reached by the decision makers as their ‘cure’ for the excesses of the past decade, of which we were rudely awakened by the financial collapse of 2008. But not everyone around the world is adopting the same policies in order to deal with the hangover left by the bubble.
In the US, on top of the bank bailout, Obama injected 800 million dollars into the economy, in China, over 500 million was invested - in countries like Venezuela, Argentina and other Latin American countries, the world financial calamity has been avoided by huge government investment. This shows, simply, that there are other ways of handling this crisis, which incidentally, was brought on by none of the people affected by the alleged solution.
These cuts don’t only mean (from a cultural perspective) less money for the production and practice of arts, but also the space and the regard that as a society we give culture. In order for a developed nation like the UK to compete in a multipolar world where China, India and Brazil are investing tons of cash and energy in technology, culture and renewable energy, a post-industrial UK will have to rely on culture and technology in order to survive this global transition.
The only upside I can see from this is a political awakening of the cultural practitioners, a new understanding, after a decade of a sympathetic Labour government, that what happens politically and economically is completely and inexorably linked to the cultural sphere. We have to become better at talking to politicians, lobbying, protesting, legislating, and forming networks to find strength amongst each other. We can also make our organisations more profitable - finding ways to make cash without public support. That doesn't mean we shouldn't also appeal for that very support. We can double track our policies. The very survival of art and culture in this country might depend on it.