Monday, 21 June 2010

Conservative vs Coalition Arts?

This is a question that pervades the minds of those in the arts at the moment. Can there be Conservative arts, is it not an oxymoron given their track record? How supportive will the new government be of the arts and what will the actual cuts mean to this valuable sector as a whole? I think it has to be acknowledged that any government in power at the present time, regardless of party politics, would be faced with the unenviable task of imposing severe cuts and sadly the arts is often the first in line. We have already seen Arts Council England being told to prepare for a £19m cut but what is the reality of Conservative-led arts and should we fear it?

The new coalition Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is a golden boy of the Conservative Party, and it has to be said, probably the most good looking minister in the cabinet (hardly much competition there though). He has the classic Tory background but is really rather a closet liberal. Labour never quite got it right with their Culture Secretaries over the years (the only one I can vaguely remember is Chris Smith and even then only that he was grey haired and bespectacled). Hunt has a real chance, to not only make a difference but to be remembered, particularly if he absorbs the Liberal Democrat arts manifesto within his own party’s agenda and manages to cement London's reputation as the centre of the art world during the Oylmpics in 2012. The Conservative manifesto was noticeably lacking when it came to the arts (everyone was more distracted by what colour ties the leaders were wearing for the debates) but Hunt has strong long-term ideas. The main two being, to reform Lottery funding in order to make it more beneficial to the arts, and to encourage more philanthropy. To strengthen his ambitions he needs to take note of the Liberal Democrats, who typical to form, laid out a broad arts policy, including to:

- Introduce a cabinet committee on creativity responsible for securing cross-departmental support and increased levels of joint working, so that creative industries contribute to wider policy objectives.
- Review the points-based visa system to ensure that it doesn’t discriminate against legitimate visiting artists and performers in order to encourage cultural exchange.
- Give more political recognition to individuals and companies who give generously to the arts on a national scale.
- Introduce a new “Paid Internship” enabling hundreds of thousands of young people to work for up to three months with any employer, without cost to the business.

Last week Arts Council England decided where their £19m cut would fall and announced a 0.5% funding cut for each of the 880 frontline arts organisations it regularly gives money to - the small organisations will of course suffer but the cuts are far smaller than had been feared and for a time, will silence the sceptics. ACE also has the added advantage of being able to draw on its £18m reserves. But one must remember that in times of hardship, recession and bleakness some of the best art is produced (YBAs, think Emin’s bed and Damien’s shark) spurred on by some innovative philanthropists (think Saatchi). So, instead of moaning about this unavoidable recession and inevitable art cuts we should look forward to the diversity that will emerge from within its depths and the new generation of philanthropists who will want to support the arts, in conjunction with a coherent coalition government arts policy which one hopes will materialise.

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