REFERENDUM: Brexit Britain and the arts

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Even if you didn’t believe the Creative Industries Federation poll before the vote, which showed that 96% of those surveyed were in favour of staying, then the reaction of the sec- tor since June 23 would make it clear.


“Half a century of collaboration and open borders [has been] crashed by fear and short-sightedness” said theatre company Complicite, which regularly undertakes pan-EU work, an integral part of its work and in- spiration over the past 30 years. “Let us hope that in the years to come our children and grandchildren have the strength to reverse this catastrophic decision”.

Choreographer Arlene Phillips said Brexit would have a “massive impact” on the freedom of exchange for dancers, choreographers and teachers, while Charlotte Jones, chief executive of the Independent Theatre Council, said: “I genuinely mourn for the opportunities that have been lost for mature cooperation and part- nership between countries that a re- formed EU would have offered”.

The Art Fund’s director Stephen Deuchar said the organisation “is deeply concerned at the impact leav- ing the EU will have on culture in the UK, and particularly on its museums and galleries”. Philip Pullman, presi- dent of the Society of Authors, said he could not see “any good coming out of” the decision.

And entertainment unions includ- ing Equity and the Musicians Union warned that the consequences of leaving the EU would be “very unwelcome” for British artists and per- formers.

So what does the future hold for a UK cultural sector outside the EU?

Most obviously, Britain’s access to the e1.3bn Creative Europe pro- gramme could now be in jeopardy, cutting off an important funding stream, while the ability to train in European institutions could be re- stricted. The UK has often been seen as a laggard in terms of its engage- ment with its European counterparts but there’s no doubt that with 230 organisations benefitting from over £40m in funds it is in the forefront.

The British Council, which over- sees the distribution of EU funds here, issued a statement the day after the Brexit result to say that there would be no material change to current pro- grammes, and that the council “has been working with our European neighbours for over eighty years and we will continue to do so. We have always believed in the strength of en- gaging with multilateral institutions and we will find ways to continue to work in partnership with other Euro- pean countries and with EU institu- tions”.

There’s also an immediate con- cern over the UK’s entitlement to be the European City of Culture in 2023. A number of cities, including Leeds, Coventry, Dundee, Cardiff and Mil- ton Keynes had already thrown their names into the ring, a ring which may now be closed to them. So far bidders have suggested that its ‘business as usual’. Peter Marland, leader of Mil- ton Keynes Council said,”Norway has a European capital of culture and they’re not in the EU. There is no rea- son we can’t be a European destina- tion city”. Laura Drane, one of the supporters of a potential South Wales bid, said the priority for campaigners is to build Cardiff up as a destination for the arts and culture however that can be achieved.

Much will also depend on the new terms of trade between the UK and the rest of the EU on matters such as movement of labour and goods and services. Will EU-based performers and creatives need visas to work in the UK? This is an issue which has al- ready caused clashes between the cul- tural sector and the Home Office over restrictions on non-EU artists. What will happen to the sector’s access to EU markets given that Europe is the largest export market for the UK’s creative industries, totalling 56% of all overseas trade?

The ability to train in European institutions could also be restricted. This is an issue which particularly affects dance, says Alastair Spalding, director of Sadler’s Wells, which has received substantial EU funding over the past five years for collaborative projects. “These are important and enhance our programmes, but are also part of bigger pan-European collaborations that are now unlikely to happen”.

He added, “Dance companies are extremely multinational, and at the moment, no one from Europe needs anything to perform in Britain. I sus- pect at some point there is going to be a process for work permits, and that is a big burden of time and cost, and is a discouraging factor. It may be that directors are simply unable to employ the people they want”.

He added that economic uncer- tainty was another major concern for Sadler’s Wells, and dance in general. “We are very dependent on donors, and 90% of our income is vulnerable to economic ups and downs, so that is actually a big worry”.

Museums Association director Sharon Heal is also worried about the impact of the post-Brexit economic fall-out on the sector. But she also emphasised the community role of museums within Britain. “Immigration was clearly a huge issue in the referendum and many people have questions, doubts and fears on this subject. Museums are ideally placed to host these conversations with their local communities.”

Michael Ryan, the chairman of the Independent Film and Television Alliance, was even more emphatic. Brexit was “a major blow to the UK film and TV industry” he said. “Producing films and televi- sion programmes is a very expen- sive and very risky business and certainty about the rules affecting the business is a must.

“This decision has just blown up our foundation – as of today, we no longer know how our relationships with co-producers, financiers and distributors will work, whether new taxes will be dropped on our activities in the rest of Europe or how production financing is going to be raised without any input from Euro- pean funding agencies”.

Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate has also expressed his con- cern about the future. Withdrawal from the European Union might curtail the Tate’s ability to employ the best curators from all over Eu- rope, and any recession caused by Brexit might hit the galleries’ visitor numbers hard.

“It is too early to say how the result of the referendum will affect Tate” said Serota. “However, our mission remains unaffected, and Tate has a responsibility to pro- mote public interest in modern and contemporary art from across the world”.

The Society of London Theatre has urged politicians to consider the impact on the creative indus- tries during negotiations. SOLT and UK Theatre have been a major part of the Performing Arts League of Europe (PEARLE) in Brussels since 1990, lobbying and negotiating on EU legislation and its implications for the performing arts sector. So it is promising to continue to work on free movement and employment law as well as EU funding.

Creative Industries Federation chief John Kampfner added that as the UK creates a new iden- tity and a new position on the world stage, our arts and creative indus- tries – the fastest growing sector in the economy – will play an impor- tant role. The CIF is hosting a series of events to bring the sector together in addressing future challenges. The first of these will be in July.

All very practical, but one can’t help feeling that the arts view of Brexit is as much emotional as it is professional. National Theatre di- rector Rufus Norris, in his reaction, said the success of British theatre relied upon the “free exchange of ideas, talent and creativity”, while his predecessor Nicholas Hytner, lamented “Why would we want to suddenly impose borders on this free exchange of talent and ideas?”

The cultural sector has always had a strong commitment to internationalism and links with Europe. Art has been crossing borders for centuries. There is therefore a strong emotional commitment to being part of Europe. Cultural collaboration, particularly at international level are driven by the sense that the UK is part of a vibrant European culture. The decision to abandon the EU has jeopardised that spirit.

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