The Spending Review: Curtain Call for the Arts?

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With the Spending Review due on the 20 October 2010, public services across the country are bracing themselves for deep and potentially damaging cuts. In the arts community, particularly in the wake of the shock abolition of the UK Film Council, there is concern about whether the delicate arts ecosystem will survive the spending cull.

Against the backdrop of a huge budget deficit, all public services must expect to receive cuts to their funding and the arts should by no means be exempt. However, the arts budget comprises only a tiny portion of overall public spending and the expected cuts of between 25% and 30% could have a disastrous impact on the arts industry.

So are the arts about to take their final bow? If you value the arts in your local community there are still ways to get involved and protect a vital part of British culture.

One of the most high profile campaigns to rally against the cuts is the I Value the Arts initiative, led by the National Campaign for the Arts (NCA). This campaign urges the public to pledge their support for the arts by registering on their website (ivaluethearts.org.uk) and sends email updates to supporters letting them know about how arts provision in their area may be affected.

Another campaign that is gaining momentum is Save the Arts, backed by leading artists including Anish Kapoor, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. More good news for arts lovers comes in the form of an online petition started by Luisa Summers which has attracted the attention of David Cameron. Despite the government’s abolition of the E-petitions system, the Prime Minister has promised to debate arts funding in parliament if Summers’ petition garners over 100,000 signatures.

However, even if these campaigns achieve some success, the British arts community will inevitably be forced to adapt to the economic climate. The silver lining is that the looming cuts are prompting innovative funding solutions for the future.

One alternative to the economic crutch of public spending is greater investment from individuals. This is the model followed in the USA, where nearly all arts funding comes from private philanthropy, and could be adopted to a greater extent in the UK if public funding is withdrawn.

Broadway is breaking new ground by introducing crowd funding for Ken Davenport’s new production of Godspell, allowing individuals to make a minimum investment of $1,000 (roughly £640) rather than the usual $50,000 to $100,000. For this sum, investors will be credited as producers and could even profit if the show is successful. If this scheme proves popular we could eventually see a similar approach to theatre funding in this country.

As well as a greater focus on fundraising, the Guardian’s Lyn Gardner has suggested that collaboration and cooperation within the arts community could be a way of riding out the economic storm. The National Theatre, for example, is in discussion with other theatres including the Royal Court and the Lyric Hammersmith about sharing functions such as box office and storage, recognising its responsibility to support the wider British arts scene.

There are positive omens for the future of the arts. The National Theatre has shown the way for others with the phenomenal success of War Horse, which made £2.5 million surplus last year, proving that the arts can still be commercially profitable even in these difficult times. Arts organisations might also look to the example of the Royal Opera House, which raised an impressive £19 million last year from donations and sponsorships alone.

No one can predict exactly what will be the long-term effects of the approaching cuts, but there is little doubt that the arts are a vital part of the make-up of Britain, both culturally and economically. This cornerstone of British culture needs to be preserved, and the easiest way for the average person to protect the arts for the future is to invest personally in them with their custom.

So see the next play at the Nuffield Theatre, take a look at an exhibition in the John Hansard Gallery or go to the ballet at the Mayflower. No matter what the government announces on 20 October, the show must go on.

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