Arts and Culture in the time of Budgetary Cuts
My title reminds me of Garcia’s ‘Love in the time of cholera’ but this is where any similarity ends.
Some will say that it was a matter of time when substantial cutbacks in public subsidy of the arts would have been announced by the government. With even the National Health Service and other major ‘priority’ programmes now facing cuts, what was the probability that culture would escape from Mr Osborne’s axe? Even a lazy student of A Level Economics will know that a deficit can be eliminated by earning more income or by cutting spending or a combination of both.
Arts organisations should have more experience than any other forms of enterprise of managing budget deficits. Public subsidy for the arts has always helped to plug their funding gaps. Indeed publicly funded cultural entrepreneurs, amongst which the writer had a very small but notable presence at one time, have become very resourceful in both imaginatively creating deficits and then managing them. This reminds me of Napoleon’s wartime forays into job creation when holes were dug up in the ground only to be filled in by the end of the day! From the point of view of the labourers who were grateful to be offered work, a job was a job.
The cultural sector has been reported by many studies to account for up to 38 percent of the country’s GDP depending upon the definition of culture and indeed the accounting conventions being followed. Regional ratios of cultural expenditure by the funders to local income for regions tend to support similar proportions for London and the South East.
Culture under Labour was a beneficiary of substantial public funding and whether it was justified by Keynesian notions of the role of government in managing growth through deficit funding or by their inherent love for culture remains to be addressed on another occasion.
It is time to respond to the very loud wailing by arts organisations on the one hand and their potentially legitimate case for the continuance of public subsidy as a special case. But if arts organisations are so good at communicating with their audiences, why have they not been successful, so far, in communicating their case for sustainable funding to Jeremy Hunt the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport? As a quick aside, will Mr Hunt reshape his department and possibly even rename it? Does change sound more convincing when the funding agency also reinvents itself to press the case for funding cuts? This is another matter to be resolved sometime in the future.
What is essential at this stage is to open up a few wounds and to close some old ones. Not really. Arts organisations are already under so much stress; why should one want to create some more? The answer lies in the proposition that funding cuts may even help the recipients to develop newer models of sustainability by challenging their core beliefs about subsidy. I have argued elsewhere that the much coveted prize of many an arts organisation was RFO status, or regularly funded status. Those who were able to win it were in a paradise beyond comparison as financial tsunamis were only created for real businesses. To suggest that many arts organisations began to see their RFO status as an inalienable right (as stated in the American constitution just as Mr Obama contemplates further action against our BP), it was also time when loss of productivity that was bred by guaranteed funding should be subjected to critical review.
Also, don’t even mention privatisation just in case Lady T is reading this. No! Arts organisations have been intensive care for so long that the patient sees it sees their environment as a luxury and an entitlement. Of course we must promote national culture, the jobs and the value for tourism that it brings but the case for public subsidy started to weaken in the same way as my grandson drinks some of his orange juice from his drinking bottle and then proceeds to pour out the rest drop by drop into my prized carpet. Cultural organisations were not on drip feed but they were slowly watering the Sahara Desert through leakages of funds and lack of application to improve their productivity.
Enough said for the moment. In the next few issues I hope to address the following questions:
- How does one assess the legacy of DCMS under Labour? Clearly its investment in culture has created several economic multipliers in the creative economy but while some of outcomes must be preserved just as others may need an urgent review.
- Is it time to assess the almost passive ‘funding-led models’ that the Arts Council and other agencies of DCMS have created? The alternative would have been to offer a combination of support and challenge which should have helped to reduce the dependency relationships where arts organisations have asked for more and more funding without examining their capacity to become self-reliant in a free market culture for the arts? Does this mean that DCMS should have encouraged its funded organisations to become more self reliant? Perhaps so, and indeed some work has been done to create match funding options and to encourage arts and heritage agencies to increase self-generated income.
- Is there a need to review the fundamental business model which has been created by the culture of subsidy? Have arts and cultural organisations started to believe that they have a right to public funding even in a climate of public sector cuts?
- Will their relationship with various funding agencies jeopardise the future survival of arts and cultural agencies?
- In the event even more cuts are necessary, what criteria will the Arts Council and other funders adopt to determine new funding levels for sustainability?
The above issues will be discussed in the blog in the coming weeks.