‘Austerity has opened arts to virus calamity’ – Arts Index

A survey of the last ten years of the arts by the National Campaign for the Arts shows that the sector’s positive response to cuts in public funding, philanthropy and business sponsorship is threatening its survival under the pandemic lockdown. It coincides with the call by director Sir Sam Mendes for a new model of arts support to be adopted by the government.

“It’s bitterly ironic that the arts sector’s resourceful response to the 2008 financial crash is the very thing that has brought it to its knees in the current Covid-19 crisis” said the NCA’s chair, actor Sam West, today as he launched the campaign’s latest Arts Index, a snapshot health report on England’s arts and culture, in partnership with the Creative Industries Federation Creative Industries Federation and King’s College London King’s College London.

It shows that

  • Investment for the arts via the Lottery, local and national government has been cut by 35% since 2008, with local government funding for the arts down 43%
  • Business sponsorship of the arts has fallen 39% since 2013, lopping tens of millions the arts economy
  • Earned income of arts organisations (box office sales, venue hires, catering etc) is up 47% since 2008
  • Although philanthropy grew substantially in 2014/15, the increase was not sustained in the 2017/18 survey
  • The proportion of all GCSEs being taken in creative subjects has fallen 20% since 2010

“The Arts Index makes for shocking reading - a steep decline in public and private investment in the arts, with the sector now more reliant than ever on earned income from box offices, cafes, bars and gift shops - all of which are now closed” he said. “Worryingly, there has also been a 20% decline in arts subjects studied at GCSE – at a time when the World Economic Forum has repeatedly said that ‘creativity’ will be one of the most needed skills this decade.

“Arts organisations rose to the challenge following the financial crash; we salute them for increasing earned income in response to a triple whammy of cuts to public funding, business sponsorship and philanthropic giving.  It’s bitterly ironic that the arts sector’s resourceful response to the 2008 financial crash is now the very thing that makes it vulnerable to the COVID-19 crisis, with theatres closed and income from tickets and bars dropping off a cliff.  Funders like Arts Council England are being proactive and helpful; now we need a commitment from the government to a rescue plan and a public funding package that will enable our sector to survive the shutdown.”

Baroness Deborah Bull, vice-principal of King’s, added that the challenge Covid-19 presented to the arts and cultural sector had been brought into sharp relief by the latest index. “It reveals the depth of the crisis the sector now faces, but it also shows the extraordinary resilience, innovative thinking and bold approaches that sustained the sector through and beyond the 2008 financial crisis - qualities and skills that will be of crucial importance in the sector’s recovery over the coming years. The data within the Arts Index will provide invaluable learning from the past to help inform and support the sector’s future.”

In response to the Arts Index, the NCA are hosting an space event for arts leaders and activists on  June 26th at 1pm-4.30pm https://forthearts.org.uk

Meanwhile, in a Financial Times article last Friday, Sam Mendes suggested a solution might be a new kind of government support for the cultural sector - which contributed £32.3bn to the UK economy in 2018 - in which it invested in cultural projects from which there could be a financial return rather than straight grants. “The arts are a giant economic growth engine” he wrote. “That is not because the arts keep us alive (thank you to the NHS for that) but because they give us something worth staying alive for”.

He calls for the job retention scheme to be extended, freelancers and self-employed aRtist6s to be properly supported, and the introduction of a theatre tax relief scheme with tax relief raised from 20% to 50% for the next three years. He wants investors in theatrical productions- “angels” - to be able to offset production losses against production profits, a simple relief not currently possible under existing tax legislation.

 This would all be bound up in a new Cultural Investment Participation Scheme that combined the joint potential of both commercial and subsidised parts of the arts to offer the government the genuine prospect of substantial financial return. “In short, our offer is to treat the government as an ‘angel’, using the same formula to return investment and share in the profit of successful shows, once those shows have earned back their initial costs” he writes.



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