Sunday, 12 September 2010

Cuts, Red Tape and the Arts

The UK has a thriving arts industry. Or so the Arts Council tells us. It puts forward a seductive argument about why the arts matter and why continued investment in the arts is an investment in our whole society.

Indeed, the UK does have an arts sector other countries envy. But there will be cuts. Latest advice from the Arts Council means 10% cuts must be factored in by ACE's Regularly Funded Organisations (RFOs) for their 2010-11 accounting period, despite the fact the year is already underway and spending has been committed to. This will increase to 30%. We're told, however, that cuts will not happen to Grants for Arts funding, as this is based on the National Lottery (and people are still buying lottery tickets).

However it seems to me there is a risk of killing off some of the more vulnerable parts of the arts sector with these cuts. Cutting all arts organisations equally is not treating them equally. Well, of course it is, technically, but practically it's putting the smallest organisations in the more precarious position.

Literature, for example, is one of the more underfunded art forms, particularly when it comes to publishing. A publisher might get a few thousand pounds' support from ACE while an opera house might get several million (compare Anonymous Publisher 1's £80K with Anonymous Opera House's £27 million). It seems to me the margins for recovering a 10-30% cut is much smaller in a publisher where books cost, say, £10, than it is for an opera house where tickets cost £200+. You'd also be able to prevent the publisher losing any money by simply asking the opera house to raise their own cut from 30% to, say, 31%.

But there's another risk to literature. Jeanette Winterson mentioned on The Review Show that ebooks might close our libraries. And she does have a point, in that funding is already being cut to libraries that are considered not to meet check-out targets. However, library statistics are just based on books checked out. Currently they don't factor in appointments, people using the computers, attendance at events held at the libraries, etc. This is problematic, because if libraries close down and publishers are underfunded, how will people reach literature outside the mainstream, blockbuster celebrity autobiog fluff we see so much of these days?

I'm not offering any solutions, you'll notice. That's not what this is post is about. I'm just really asking questions and raising problems. I'm not yet sure how they can be solved.

What do you think?

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