The arts are heading into a doom loop

<span>Photograph: Alamy</span>
Photograph: Alamy

Charlotte Higgins outlines a profound truth in her stirring and timely call to save the arts (Culture is not trivial, it’s about who we are. That’s why Labour needs a plan to save the arts, 26 November). After 13 years of being a punchbag in culture wars or a punchline in sneers at the elite, cultural life and what it means for civic society and its contribution to the economy is in danger.

Incremental cuts to public investment have been bad enough, and at a scale which will be hard for a new government to reverse. But we are approaching a doom loop where less money, less certainty in future funding and a hostile environment to inquiring ideas leads to less risk-taking and new work. That in turn leads to declining new audiences, smaller box-office receipts and a less compelling cultural economy. At the same time, Brexit brakes on touring, inflation and the hangover of Covid closures are making it harder for arts organisations to plan for the future. The elimination of music and arts education in schools is depriving them of the next generation of talent and of potential.

A reforming government should take a whole-system approach to its thinking on the arts – enabling not only an artistic renewal, but also ensuring that culture is baked into plans for new towns, high-street regeneration, civic pride and economic growth, bringing great art within the reach of everyone. The Arts Council’s first chairman, John Maynard Keynes, wrote that the duty of a public cultural body was to offer “courage, confidence and opportunity”. All three are lacking today in the arts, but, as in 1945, they can all be revived by a government of serious intent.
Alan Davey
Former CEO, Arts Council England; former controller, BBC Radio 3

• Charlotte Higgins is spot-on in her analysis that saving the arts must be an incoming Labour government priority. But let’s hope the new team quickly sets aside the trickle-down mentality of arts policy that has proved to be the root course of arts’ and artists’ precarity. The livelihood prospects and multiplicity of contributions of literally thousands of artists at the arts grassroots have been marginalised over the last decade, in particular by the Arts Council’s risk-averse, siloed and inflexible ways.

If human flourishing through arts participation by all in society is the goal, our current building-centric arts ecology warrants a more radical policy solution. The future of equity and inclusion in the arts (as elsewhere in society) lies in a government that truly animates the concept of levelling up by ceding power, funds and decision-making to localised democracies in which everyone contributes and everyone gains.
Susan Jones
Rowlands Gill, Tyne and Wear

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