The current Cultural Olympiad – running alongside the London 2012 Games – is currently a great opportunity to celebrate in the UK artists and the arts from across the world. But there remains considerable concern that, with no end to the cuts in sight, the long-term future for artists and the cultural sector is an increasingly uncertain one.
We have a government which, while professing commitment to public funding, seems on the contrary to want to shoehorn all the arts and creative industries alike into a business model which will not only be ultimately ineffective but inappropriate for much of the arts and the cultural sector.
The assessment of risk and more objective evaluation exercises are concepts which have recently been introduced into the arts, but - as the actress Julie Walters has pointed out - failure and experimentation are part of the very nature of the arts, and we tamper with those aspects at our peril. Philanthropy too, while being an invaluable contribution, has a metropolitan bias, targets the most prestigious organisations and should remain - in Vivien Duffield’s own words - ‘the icing on the cake’.
The great irony is that while the funding of individual artists, companies and organisations inevitably carries risk, the financial support of the arts sector as a whole - which can only properly (and most efficiently) be achieved through public funding - is not only risk-free but is of huge benefit to society, not just in an artistic sense, but also in an economic one. An increase in public investment in the arts ought to be one of the major ways in which the UK begins to stimulate growth.
Yet the current reality is that we have a cultural sector where, according to Public Libraries News, 122 libraries have been closed in the financial year 2011/2012, museums are now describing a devastating impact in terms of reductions in staffing levels, opening hours and outreach programmes including school visits; and many listed buildings - despite the stop-gap measure agreed for churches - are likely to be hit hard by the removal of the zero rating on VAT on alterations.
On the issue of VAT, the Scottish culture minister Fiona Hyslop has written to George Osborne suggesting that the 20% VAT on repairs should be reduced on all dwellings including listed buildings. The concern over VAT as well as the U-turn on the charity tax does suggest a lack of joined up thinking between the Treasury and the DCMS.
Arts education too is an area on which the DCMS should be providing a lead – the Ebacc, for instance, still excludes art and design. In contrast to Labour’s emphasis on ‘access’ (which stressed social and consumer benefits) and the current government’s emphasis on ‘excellence’ (too much of an excuse to cut the arts) we need a more artist-enabling policy which is also willing to look towards the regions and support and encourage artists in every discipline. In this context the government should affirm their commitment to the maintenance of the current 1000 euro resale price of an artwork which triggers visual artists’ royalties. Yet to support and encourage the unique contribution made by the arts and the cultural sector we need – in the long-term - a strong, assertive and dedicated department.
Crossbench peer The Earl of Clancarty is an artist and is writing from that perspective.