Slashing Culture

The arts appear to be one of the most dispensable areas

Published on 13 February 2013

Author(s): Goldenroom/Estafania de la Torriente Labayen

Type:  Opinion Vol 14, Jan 2013

2012 has definitely been the “annus horribilis” of the European arts.

After the 2008 banking crisis, world economic stagnation has brought rampant fiscal deficit to European nations. Wary international investors and opportunistic speculators have done the rest, bringing most of Europe to its knees, pushing governments to abruptly reduce from their budgets “unnecessary” spending. The arts appear to be one of the most dispensable areas and 2012 has been a particularly harsh year.

In Portugal, the cuts to the arts sector were increased by 40% in relation to the budgetary cuts of 2011. Italy, the country with the greatest number of monuments protected by UNESCO, has seen an enormous reduction in its budget for culture, from 2.300 million euros in 2001 to 1400 million euros in 2012. And Greece, cradle of the European civilisation, has seen a 35% reduction. In Spain, the arts sector has suffered a 30% budget reduction. To which the current Government has added an increase in value added tax, (VAT) for the arts from 8% up to 21%. All of which tallies up to horrendous consequences for the arts sector across the Mediterranean.

Yet, it is not only the so called, PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) countries which are seeing their culture budgets dramatically reduced. In 2012 the Department for Media, Culture and Sports (UK) announced a £11.6m cut on the Arts Council England's (ACE) budget, before 2015. This new cut is in addition to the 30% budget reduction already announced by George Osborne in early 2010.

The ACE funds arts organisations and activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. These not only include major art venues in England but also small cultural and creative industries, charities working in the arts, and alternative arts organisations all of which depend on these public funds to keep up their activities and projects. And all of which are accessible and in some way enrich the lives of ordinary people, often in essential ways.

The new budget constraint has meant lost funding for hundreds of these services. In 2012, 1333 groups applied for funding, but the truth is that only 695 of them have being granted funds for three years from 2012. And more than 300 groups, which in previous years received funding, face a considerable cut to their grants[1]. For example, the Ludus Dance company in Lancaster will lose two thirds of its £300,000 funding by 2014-15; and the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London has suffered a 40% cut.

Moreover, the ACE itself is being challenged with a budget drop from £449 million to £349 million by 2015. This means a reduction of permanent staff – around 100 jobs will disappear- and regional restructuring - closing down and merging some of its offices that will be reduced from the current nine to five, to be located in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol. So whilst local communities are affected immediately and directly by the cuts, these budget restrictions significantly impact the long term, overarching vision and development of art and culture.

The economic downturn is also affecting the resources and funding to the arts provided by local authorities. The Arts Development UK Local Authority Arts Funding Survey 2012, indicates two major trends. One, towards a major reorganisation of the art services resulting on the increase in combining arts services with other services (such as regeneration or wider community services) indicating a possible loss of specialism within the arts[2]. The second trend being the loss of voluntary and independent arts funding by local authorities, with a 41% reduction in funding, proving they find it increasingly difficult to maintain and regularly fund independent arts organisations[3]. Local authorities are struggling to meet year-on-year cuts to the point of closing their arts services. Amongst these, Northampton Borough Council, Hertfordshire County Council, Borough of Wellingborough Council, Gloucestershire County Council, and Chichester District Council, among others, no longer have an arts service at all or are planning to close their cultural services in their entirety.

Recently, Newcastle Council has announced a 100% cuts to the arts, including a 50% cut to museums and libraries that would close all but two public libraries in the city. Several artists with strong links to the area, including sculptor Antony Gormley, Sting, Bryan Ferry and Mark Knopfler, have joined efforts, writing an open letter to the Council where they described these cuts as a 'short-sighted attack on the arts' and affirmed 'the council risks throwing away a shared cultural heritage that has been built up by generations and generations of ordinary people in the city'[4]. Newcastle is but one of many local and regional governments where budget cuts to arts and culture programmes have been made too quickly and in great depth, leaving organisations without alternative support and ultimately decimating local culture services.

Such efforts to cope with fiscal restraints are rash and shortsighted, in particular because it ignores the vital role of culture and art in the economy. In Europe, the arts sector contributes to 2.6% of the EU’s GDP, employing at least 5.8 million Europeans.[5] The United Kingdom has the largest cultural economy in the world. The Arts Council England confirmed that “the creative industries contribute 6.2% to the UK economy, with nearly 2 million people in creative employment”[6]. Taking this data into account, we can easily state that the Arts are in Europe an important source of employment and income generation, with the added benefit of enhancing quality of life and facilitating social cohesion. Arguably, investing in culture and art is fiscally responsible, the value for purpose being twofold benefitting both the economy and society.

In light of this, the cuts governments across Europe have imposed to the arts - together with the ones applied to basic policies of the welfare state such as health, education or housing polices - have raised voices that believe arts budget reductions are being made to follow a deeper ideological purpose. The displacement of the arts in the national curriculum is a key indicator of this. Stephen Daldry, theatre and film director involved in the Olympic ceremony, declared to The Stage, ' It is rather astonishing in the same breath [as my celebrating the Olympics] that our Secretary of State for Education thinks it appropriate to get the arts out of the national curriculum (…) So we’re back to where we were 15 years ago, where we are having to fight for old principles, fight for the old ideas and ideals of a country that should be at the forefront of what we expressed at the Olympics… so unfortunately we will have to stand up and argue for it all over again'[7]

The marginalization of the arts from the educational system will only produce a new generation lacking creativity and soft skills. Without cultural resources we can only expect a society that is dehumanised and incapable of sympathising with the others. The abrupt reduction of the budget dedicated to the arts and culture, will provoke the destruction of the cultural and creative industries, the erosion of the social cohesion and the reduction of the innovation capacity. In short, the spectacularisation of culture and the society. While all signs point that 2013 will be again a tough year for the arts, it is the long term future and wider impact of the funding cuts on the economy, society and culture that necessitate maintaining a stand to retain art and cultural services and programmes. The continuation of partnerships and collaborations between arts organisations and stakeholders, the commitment of citizens and tax payers, and a strong and coordinated lobbying in favour of culture and creativity, can still get the government and local authorities to understand the value of the arts, both real and intrinsic.


[1] Data extracted from The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/funds-slashed-for-hundreds-of-arts-groups-2257067.html

[2] The Arts Development UK Local Authority Arts Funding Survey 2012. http://artsdevelopmentuk.org/2012/10/arts-development-uk-local-authority-arts-funding-survey-2012/2012-la-arts-spending-survey-report-final/

[3] Ibid

[4] Read the full article at the Huffingtonpost website: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/12/17/newcastle-art-funding-cuts-antony-gormley_n_2315937.html

[5] European Commission and KEA European Affairs. The Economy of Culture in Europe.November 2006.

[6] Arts Council England. http://www.culture.gov.uk/publications/8682.aspx. December 2011.

[7] Full article can be found at http://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2012/11/arts-have-been-set-back-15-years-by-funding-cuts-stephen-daldry/

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