Tuesday, October 12, 2010

On the Edge of our Seats regarding The Arts and the Economy in the United Kingdom

 Janet Petitpas, Senior Associate, London 

On October 20th, the government in the UK will be announcing its comprehensive spending review and it is anticipated that government spending cuts will be savage. Like most countries in our current economy, these cuts are necessary to make up for a deep structural deficit that was accumulated during the years leading up to the crash.

The cuts are expected to hit the cultural sector very hard, although the arts are not alone. Cuts at the levels projected are along the lines of no spending on roads and the closing of the majority of the courts – in other words, unprecedented reductions that far exceed even those of the Thatcher administration. Anticipated cuts include 25% reduction in expenses for Home office, Climate and Energy Change, Community and Local Government, and 25% reductions in Culture, Media and Sports. Both Education and Defence expect a 10-20% cut and cuts to Health are likely to include 40% cuts to social care.

The current estimate for public sector job losses to come is 600,000 in addition to the 750,000 private sector workers who have already lost their jobs. Already, families are seeing reductions to their childcare benefits. Bleak all around, but back to the arts.

The arts community in the UK has gotten together to campaign against cuts that are seen as so extreme that they would sabotage the country’s status as a global leader in arts and culture. More than 100 of the UK’s leading artists have formed Save the Arts and have sent an open letter to the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt warning that cuts to arts and museum funding could obliterate decades of work that have gone into establishing a rich British cultural environment. The letter emphasized that art:

“enriches the lives of millions of Britons and attracts millions more visitors from other countries. It does all this at a cost that is no more than a tiny fraction of the national budget.” 

Included in the Save the Arts website is an animation created by artist David Shrigley illustrating the effects of such drastic cuts. Most at risk will be smaller regional museums and art galleries, which provide inspiration to aspiring artists. Artist Anish Kapoor told the Guardian newspaper: 

“the arts bring in a huge revenue to the UK and they will be vital to any recovery. It hasn’t got the emotive impact of cuts to, say, hospitals or schools, but it is just as important. The arts are a central way in which we gain a sense of community, of something collective in our society; it gives us our sense of place.” 

Arts and Business statistics show that private investment in culture has decreased 4.5% from 2008-2009 and will likely continue to decrease as the businesses and individuals have fewer funds to spread. This means that private sources of income will not be able to be raised to make up for public funding shortfalls.

So we wait for the shoe to drop. Already there are many repercussions from the current economy including:
       • The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) has been abolished and there is hope that some of the programs they ran will be picked up by Arts Council England (ACE). 
       • The National Trusts is undergoing a re-structuring to result in a savings of £10 million from a range of sources over the next three years. There will likely be approximately 60 positions eliminated as part of the spending reductions. 
       • The Arts Council announced £19 million in cuts on October 4, 2010. While this is a large number, arts organizations were braced for bigger impacts. Of the £19 million in cuts, only £1.8 million or .5% of funding will be lost for all 880 organizations currently funded. 
      • The Natural History Museum in London is preparing for public spending cuts by planning for £2.3 million reductions in their expense base. Up to 40 positions may be eliminated and there are fears that an entire research unit will be shut. 
      • Eureka! The National Children’s Museum in Halifax has dropped plans to open a London branch. The decision follows a feasibility study that concluded that funds would be extremely difficult to secure in the current economy. 

While most economists agree that cuts are necessary, some argue that the depth of the cuts make it harder for the economy to begin growing its way out of the recession. At the June meeting of the G20, a general commitment was made to halve all deficits by major industrial nations by 2013. This means that each of these 20 governments is simultaneously trying to tighten their spending and with everyone cutting costs, it isn’t clear who will be left to stimulate the economy.

We’ll hold our breath until October 20th but it is clear that spending cuts are coming and we are all hoping that the arts in the United Kingdom are able to weather the storm.

Museums Journal, October 2010, Museums Association, London.
Turner Prize Winners Lead Cuts Protest in Open Letter, Peter Walker, The Guardian, Saturday, October 2, 2010
The Knives are Out, John Lanchester, The Guardian Weekend, October 2, 2010. 
Millions Lose Out in Children Benefit Cut, Isabel Oakeshott, The Sunday Times, October 3, 2010. http://www.fundraising.co.uk/news/2010/09/21/what-25-cut-arts-funding-looks http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/news/arts-council-england-implements-cuts-201011-budget/ http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jul/26/jeremy-hunt-to-close-mla http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/jun/18/arts-council-cuts-list-spreadsheet http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/jun/13/natural-history-museum-cut-jobs

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