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Arts funding: Where will the cuts be?

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Will Gompertz | 12:29 UK time, Thursday, 15 July 2010

Secretary of State for Culture Jeremy Hunt and Culture Minister Ed Vaizey have an unenviable job. They have inherited the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) portfolio at a time when the coalition government is demanding cuts to be offered up by all departments.

Once termed the Ministry of Fun, Messers Hunt and Vaizey might find it more like a Ministry of Glum as they preside over a period of cutting the funding of state subsidised arts bodies.

Art exhibition at Tate Britain

That won't be pleasant for them, the arts bodies or the public who have responded to what is seen as a golden age of British arts by attending theatres, museums and live events in record numbers.

In fact it must be galling for the new Tory pair as they have watched consecutive Labour DCMS ministers enjoy a period of staunch Treasury support based on a successful National Lottery and healthy public finances that they may regard as an inheritance from John Major's previous Conservative government.

Their heartfelt declaration of love of the arts prior to the election won them many friends across the sector who also appreciated their honesty when they said that cuts were inevitable.

They also strenuously argued that they would do everything in their power to make the cuts as painless as possible, that they would fight toe-to-toe with the Treasury to ensure the arts received a fair hearing.

And it is on that promise that they will be judged by the arts world. It may be bad luck that their time at the DCMS is going to be dominated by trying to solve problems that are largely not of their making but that does not absolve them of taking responsibility for the decisions they and their government are about to make.

My sense is that Jeremy Hunt will go for an early settlement with the Treasury, perhaps as soon as this week or early next week. In a recent letter sent out by the government to their funded bodies they have asked them to prepare for both a 25% and 30% cut.

Arts leaders are appalled by this possibility and are saying such a move could destroy not only large swathes of the successful British arts ecology but also the creative economy they feel the arts does so much to stimulate.

Nicholas HytnerSpeaking to the National Theatre's Nicholas Hytner yesterday, he said he was worried that the DCMS saw the arts through the prism of the Arts Council, who they perceive as being wasteful and bureaucratic, which he says is far from the reality.

According to him the vast majority of arts institutions run on a barely break-even basis, with staff that are paid handsomely in professional fulfilment but poorly in cash.

A 10% cut for them doesn't mean halving the annual champagne bill, it means deciding if the whole operation is viable or not. A 25% cut he says, probably does away with that problem, the operation closes.

Hytner says there is a way of cutting the arts that although damaging would stop what he feels could be a catastrophe. The answer he says is to "back load" any cuts, maybe start with 10% next year and only go beyond that in 2013 when Lottery money becomes available again after having been away on Olympics duty.

Meanwhile the government's hope of encouraging private individuals to plug the gap is being questioned by the country's leading philanthropists who warn that such a plan is overly optimistic. With this in mind they will know that they are under pressure to juggle the needs of the Treasury with an arts sector they have promised to protect.

Nobody expects them to stave off cuts, but the major players in the arts will expect them to at least deliver a settlement that doesn't cut too much, too soon - an outcome they say would cause unnecessary destruction.

The question being asked by the arts sector is will the culture ministers fight the arts' corner as they promised, listen to the sector's concerns and win the argument with the Treasury?


  • Comment number 1.

    It is going to be interesting to see how much influence Jeremy Hunt and Ed Vaizey have in the fight with Treasury as the level of cuts goes being proposed across government goes far beyond what is needed to fix the deficit problem. These cuts are driven by ideology and so, like others who are powered by missionary zeal the politicians who are implementing them are not likely to be interested in engaging in debate. Consequently, we'll soon be finding out if Jeremy Hunt and Ed Vaizey really do love the arts AND if they have any clout, let's hope they do both.

  • Comment number 2.

    The suggestion that the cuts to the arts are driven by ideology is supported by today's news about the proposed cuts to the BBC, which doesn't just mean TV, of course, or governor's salaries, but also the BBC orchestras, radio drama, etc.

    The same applies to the government's attempts to suggest that 'austerity' has some moral splendour, and that when hard choices have to be made, people will naturally choose health or education over arts spending. These are false choices intended to divide opposition; cutting Trident, for example, would save far more than the arts or university cuts, but that somehow isn't included in the austerity measures.

    No question, when the humanities at universities are singled out for cuts, arts organisations are targeted, and the BBC (a separate funding issue anyway) is threatened - this amounts to an attack on our cultural life that goes 'far beyond what is needed to fix the deficit problem'.

  • Comment number 3.

    Glad to see not another "It's The End Of The World" essay.
    Unless you have bottomless pockets (which the State hasn't unless we hand over even more dosh), good times come to an end, and we have to pay for enjoying ourselves so much and cope with a period of austerity/frugality.
    I suspect many of the "general public" are utterly mystified by what passes for Art ever since DaDaism really, and why their tax pounds aren't being spent on "stuff" which is popular.
    The intellectuals of the Arts Council have much to answer for, and will receive scant sympathy if cuts are made in many of their favoured areas.

  • Comment number 4.

    Art is not for the masses. Never was and never truly will be. Let it be by and for an elite who will be able to pat themselves on the back for understanding their own creations, pushing their own money around to make it happen. The odd philanthropist can spread the word, or not.

    Let the rest of us get on with populist commercially driven "art" of other sorts.

  • Comment number 5.

    Will Gompertz.

    "The question being asked by the arts sector is will the culture ministers fight the arts' corner.."

    another question, sadly, has to be: what is the future of the arts, culture in general -- even if funded properly -- in a country where increasing numbers of people succumb to 'faith' and lack a decent education?

  • Comment number 6.

    Kit Green #4.

    "Art is not for the masses. Never was and never truly will be."

    you've never seen murals and graffiti in an inner-city, I take it?

  • Comment number 7.

    'Art is not for the masses. Never was and never truly will be'

    Good point about the urban art proliferating in inner-cities - which highlights a very narrow definition of 'art' in this remark; in fact, who else is art for?
    Slashing cuts to the 'arts' in Britain will affect not only an elite who go to posh opera or incomprehensible art exhibitions - what about the Proms and the 6000 people who managed to see and hear Placido Domingo at the Royal Albert Hall the other evening, which 'could have been filled three times over' - and indeed the jobs of the people who served them with drinks and food, as well as the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House? What of the writers who produce the ever-popular Dr Who and all the TV serials that are indeed, populist and commercially driven 'art'?
    What about centuries of western culture that have made life worth living here in the most dire times? What about the people who queued to see one painting a week in the National Gallery during the war, and the thousands who queued to see Van Gogh earlier this year? And what about the Highlanders who gather from miles around for a ceilidh (music, dancing, songs and stories - 'arts') by Blazing Fiddles?
    To regard 'art' as the province of an elite privileged few is to fall into the trap of a capitalist system that seeks to commodify our most precious and life-enhancing common heritage. We should be striving to improve everyone's opportunities for making, experiencing and enjoying the diversity of the arts, high, low, applied, commercial, contemporary and classical - rather than systematically destroying them.


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