Wednesday 28 July 2010

Stop cuts to arts funding in the North East

The Guardian reports on opposition to arts funding cuts in the North East:

'Artists and arts chiefs from north-east England joined forces yesterday to warn of the dangerous impact of "deep or hasty" funding cuts.

The north-east has been a cultural success story over the past decade, from the arrival of the Baltic for contemporary art and the Sage for music to theatrical success at Northern Stage and Live Theatre.

Yesterday playwright Lee Hall, who wrote Billy Elliot and the Broadway-bound The Pitmen Painters, said huge cuts for arts organisations would be "economically and culturally disastrous". He said arts investment returns much more to the economy than it takes out.

"Theatre in Britain is an economic powerhouse and the VAT on the West End alone brings in more than the subsidy – it's simply crazy and short-sighted to cut off the blood supply. Nearly every commercial cultural project providing jobs for thousands of people was in some way initially funded by government subsidy. This is a cultural disaster and economic insanity. I strongly urge Jeremy Hunt and the coalition government to think again."'

It's entirely understandable that Lee Hall and others quoted in the article focus mainly (if not exclusively) on economic arguments, rather than musing on the artistic, emotional and spiritual worth of culture, to make the case against the cuts. They know that government ministers couldn't give a damn about anything other than the 'bottom line' of what's good for business.

They are of course correct: cultural investment in this region has reaped financial rewards. But it's also worth remembering there are other, less measurable but very good, reasons for sustaining arts funding. Lee Hall, writer of Billy Elliott and Pitmen Painters (both celebrations of working class creativity and cultural participation), certainly knows this.

I hope this co-ordinated appeal is merely a first step and the writers, artists, theatre practitioners and others behind it continue to campaign against arts cuts. The theatres, galleries and music venues they represent are valued and well-loved around here.

Normally the case for the arts - seen as a frivolous extra, compared to health and education - can seem tricky to make. But it's a vital case to argue, for economic reasons and because of the broader benefits. The defence of arts funding should be viewed as part of a larger campaign in defence of the public sphere.

State funding of arts is, lest we forget, profoundly egalitarian, enabling the majority to access what could otherwise be limited to a privileged minority. Preserving that support is crucial for more than just those directly dependent upon it for their jobs.

Image: The Pitmen Painters, local playwright Lee Hall's wonderful play about the Northumberland miners who became acclaimed painters, was first performed at Newcastle's Live Theatre.


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