The report states that councils have endured extreme budget cuts across the country, with more than £860m cut from annual council spending on arts and culture between 2009/10 and 2018/19. Proportionally, the West Midlands has been the worst off, with almost 45% of their budget slashed; the North East came in third, with 39.6%.
With arts and culture being a lesser priority for most local councils, the creative sector was vulnerable and struggling before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In Newcastle especially, cuts have left the city helpless and with a knife primed at the remaining, withering arts budget. It is estimated Newcastle City Council had £300m cut from their budget by the end of 2019. Nick Forbes, the leader of Newcastle City Council stated that they’ve “cut every other service that the council provides to the absolute minimum, to try to protect social care”. The arts can no longer be a priority when councils are struggling to fund the services that keep people alive and safe.
More can be done to protect regional arts and culture. The Fabian society’s report suggests that there needs to be greater devolution to local councils and governments in order for funding of the sector to be proportional and fair. Notably, Arts Council England is such an important institution for financing and funding creative projects across the country, however, it is also to blame for such a geographical disparity. Overall, 41.1% of their National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) funding is being directed towards the capital for the 2018-22 wave, with larger and more established institutions benefitting the most: the National Theatre, for example.
It’s easy to understand why London receives the majority of arts funding, the capital is the largest arts and culture hub in the country. However, this does not mean that Arts Council England should default to funding the city the most, especially as London receives two-thirds of the country’s private investment compared to the North’s measly 12%. Ultimately, with little investment, organisations are forced to hike up the prices of tickets and admissions, making arts and cultural events less accessible for large numbers of the population.
The arts shouldn’t be an elitist commodity, especially as the report continuously refers back to the positive impact they have on people’s wellbeing, social mobility and the togetherness of local communities.
National attention has been drawn to the struggles of institutions such as The Old Vic, Shakespeare’s Globe and National Theatre: all venues of notoriety and significance. Nobody wants to see them go under; it would be a tragedy. However, more shock and outcry should be directed to the smaller, grassroots venues that are threatening to, and have already, gone under due to a deadly mix of budget cuts and the pandemic. Grassroots organisations are so important to the North East: these are the companies that are heralded with boosting local wellbeing, culture and engagement. These are the companies that provide vast and exciting opportunities for those of us who have little to no access to the wealth of culture in the capital. Without the little guys, there will be no big ones: no National Theatres or Old Vic. We’ll be stuck in the past with no emerging, exciting and diverse voices.
Featured image: Wikimedia Commons