The government has cut the budget of Arts Council England (ACE) by 30%, or £118 million. Some projects have had their Arts Council funding withdrawn completely. Theatre companies in particular have been hit badly.
Some are criticising the cuts because the “cultural industries” are apparently vital to the British economy. The director of the Serpentine Gallery was quick to criticise the cuts from this point of view in the Evening Standard: “In an HSBC survey, 57 per cent of entrepreneurs thought that the UK’s primary focus should be ‘world class creative industries.’”
We need to guard against using this argument in the case against cuts. The Arts’ Council’s ethos has been all about the importance of art in sharpening the competitive edge of Britain’s economy in a global market. Some critics, like Mute magazine, who have lost 100% of their ACE funding, say it comes close to seeing art itself as simply a form of entrepreneurship. They are right to say that “the relevant story lies in the devastation being wrought upon the social in general.”
It is likely that one effect of the cuts will be a further concentration of cultural activity in London. While Sheffield Museums, for example, lose all their ACE funding, most of the big “winners” this year are London-based: the Barbican Centre, the Arcola, the Serpentine... Big publisher Faber and Faber also ranks among the “winners.”
London received half of all the money in the ACE budget. But within this, groups have lost out, including many that promote black and Asian culture.
With the Olympic Games coming up, the rest of the country will no doubt slip even further from the memory of the chattering classes in the capital. Some of the ACE funding gap is to be made up with money from the National Lottery, currently listing London 2012 as one of its priority areas.
It remains to be seen whether small projects will be able to ride out the cuts like big national organisations can. No doubt many will not, unless there is a fight.
Groups like Arts Against Cuts have been a constant presence on, for example, the recent student protests. We must not forget to fight to save the arts as we fight to save welfare and education.