tue 16/08/2022

The cuts are coming So what now? | reviews, news & interviews

The cuts are coming. So what now?

The cuts are coming. So what now?

Members of the artistic communities have been campaigning for weeks now against the imminent cuts in the subsidies given to the arts (see David Shrigley’s clever video here). All arts organisations have been told, in the latest money-saving initiative, to rewrite their budgets with a 10 per cent cut in their Arts Council grant. These are the lucky ones – the Arts Council has indicated that some bodies will have their entire grant removed.

So on the fringe of the Tory party conference here in Birmingham, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the Association of British Orchestras asked the question: "In an age of ‘progressive austerity’, can private philanthropy replace public subsidy for the arts?"

Before dealing with that, culture minister Ed Vaizey seemed amusedly irritated (or irritably amused) that, "There’s this feeling in the arts community that Jeremy [Hunt, culture secretary] and I are sitting back and offering up the arts to the Treasury."

He went on to say that arts bodies had to produce "creative and innovative ways for making more with less", before dealing with the main question, which he answered in the negative: the Government will always support the arts, and Gift Aid should be simplified to make this easier.

But. But. But "we’re all in this together", and no one can say that the arts should be exempt from cuts. (This despite the commonly reported assertion that the arts contributes to the economy more than it takes in subsidy.)

His most eye-opening statement was that "When I hear of someone giving a large amount, I always say, have we, the Government, said thank you?" The point he was driving at was that, "It’s not inappropriate for a donor to say, if I give you money, what do I get out of it?" This is exactly the sort of comment which will alarm those in the arts communities who felt that the Conservatives might turn philanthropy into a cost-benefit analysis. (This does not, of course, mean this is ineffective.)

When theartsdesk asked him about how he would incentivise donors when there was no more money forthcoming, he pointed to existing tax breaks, and said that "a conversation" was going on with the Treasury, but this was for the long term. So it seems that arts bodies are going to have to turn to private money.

The second panellist, Emma Turner of Barclays Wealth, who works with high net worths on their "journey of giving", came up with the heartening survey result that 75 per cent of wealthy people surveyed said they were going to maintain their giving after the recession, while 26 per cent were going to increase it. She also described the three motives people have for giving: social, familial and religious. She also encouraged Ed Vaizey to publicise these tax breaks better.

The final panellist, Colin Tweedy, CEO of Arts & Business, the charity which tries to encourage businesses to be philanthropic, said that arts organisations were not helping themselves: only 7 per cent have legacy schemes and only 32 per cent friends schemes.

This relates to one of our common misconceptions of philanthropy, as Colin Tweedy said when theartsdesk talked to him afterwards: we too often think of the big names who donate and have their names put above the lintel, when we should consider as philanthropy all donations. Getting more money "is about local engagement. We should get people to realise the arts are fundamental to making our cities, our streets, our communities, even our rural communities liveable and wonderful places. If they think it all comes from public sources or rich people getting tax breaks, they’ll be turned off".

Big givers are big news, he said, staking their claims to immortality with their donations, but this evening’s Cultural Champions ceremony in Birmingham would recognise non-boldface names.

The problem with the Arts Council promising complete cuts is that one or two mandarins are dictating our cultural lives, he said – we should be consulted. But couldn’t that lead to the tyranny of the majority? "It’s a balance – we need to get local commitment but the last thing we want is simply saying they’re going to do Strictly Come Dancing. I wouldn’t want Ann Widdecombe choosing my pictures,"

The three things Tweedy would like to see saved from cuts were the Serpentine Gallery (of which he is a trustee), the Wordsworth Trust at Dove Cottage and the Aldeburgh Festival.

Cutting strings

Stephen Maddock, CEO of the CBSO, told theartsdesk that the orchestra was expecting to lose £400,000 on a turnover of £9 million: "These are well beyond the point where we can just be a bit smarter, or cut some admin." Will musicians be sacked? "I very much doubt that we will have to sack musicians, but clearly the board is at the beginning of discussing these things.

What about the argument that the arts put more back in than they take out? And isn’t Ed Vaizey just being political, maintaining collective responsibility, when he says the arts have to take their medicine too? "I buy the argument, but for the arts to get off scot-free without any reduction would simply make the arts very unpopular with everyone else. Let’s stop it at 10 per cent, for example, because beyond that you’re going to see less art being produced."

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