Arts funding isn’t a bailout. It’s essential to our country.
Blog by the Fed's Chief Executive, Caroline Norbury MBE

June 08, 2020

The UK’s creative industries have been one of our greatest success stories.  Admired the world over for our creative ingenuity, our design skills, our ability to think imaginatively combined with our commitment to recognise and protect intellectual property; the UK has led the way creating value from ideas.

Yet while we have celebrated this success, we have failed to appreciate the complexity of our creative ecosystem and crucially, the relationship of its constituent parts.  The present pandemic has highlighted the strength of some elements - such as gaming and digital content creation - whilst exposing the fragility of others: predominantly those reliant on ticketing and hospitality income.

The arts and the commercial creative industries are both interlinked and interdependent.   The success of our UK advertising, publishing, video games, film and TV industries can be traced back to our much-maligned creative arts subjects and art schools. We have the second biggest recorded music industry in the world, precisely because we also have one of the most active grassroots live music scenes.  

Today’s Arts Index, from the National Campaign for the Arts, makes for shocking reading. National and local authority investment in the arts has fallen by 35% since 2008 and private business sponsorship by 39%.  Worryingly, there has been a 20% decline in arts subjects studied at GCSE since 2010 – at a time when the World Economic Forum, (the business organisation representing some the world’s largest brands and corporates), has repeatedly said that “creativity” will be one of the most needed skills this decade.  

And with the fallout of the pandemic, it’s about to get much worse.  Surveys undertaken by the Creative Industries Federation early into lockdown showed that half of all respondents believed they only had enough reserves to last until the end of June. Although Arts Council England has brought forward £160m as part of its emergency funding package, and others -  including the BFI,  British Fashion Council and various music bodies - have pulled together emergency responses, none of this will be sufficient without additional government help at both a national and local level. 

In the last few weeks, we have seen the re-birth of the purpose of the state.  Decades-long adherence to the belief that the job of the state was merely to “create the right conditions” has gone; replaced by a zealous and active protagonist in the form of the Johnson government. We need to reverse the trends evident in the latest Arts Index and I believe we will never have a better opportunity than now to do so. 

This next decade will not belong to the number crunchers and the analysts, it will belong to those who can think the unimaginable and make it happen.  It will grow from happy creative collisions not just by trawling the data, but by new ways of seeing.  We can’t do it however, without investment into our arts community. Now must be the time to mobilise our creative thinkers and turn ourselves into a nation of “imagineers” – to both imagine and engineer our future. 

The arts have paid their own price during austerity, through a decade of cuts to funding.  This needs to be addressed immediately – firstly through the creation of an emergency fund to help those arts organisations and cultural institutions in crisis and secondly by committing to ongoing reinvestment in our arts and cultural sector.  Not every arts organisation will survive, and more change is inevitable, but we can’t afford to salami slice any longer.  Our arts sit at the heart of our innovation process – they are too important to our economy to ignore.

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The Arts Index is published today by the National Campaign for the Arts, in partnership with the Creative Industries Federation and King's College London.

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