A couple of years ago I wrote this blog to try and point out why the arts should absolutely not bear it’s share of the cuts that are devastating our community. It should be noted that since this blog was written further cuts have been made, quietly friends have been losing their jobs and just this week the Mac have said they may have to close.
I think it’s important that this doesn’t become about the Mac. This is not about whether the Mac could make savings or whether the Mac should be saved. This is about the fact that we are investing in division while cutting the thing that can fix us and have been doing so for a generation…
This morning I got onto an argument on twitter with a young lady who was suggesting that in the current climate she didn’t believe in funding the arts. An 11-15% cut isn’t enough for her obviously, she wants to stop funding the arts altogether... cause y’know, the health service and that.
To be fair I kind of lost the rag a bit but it’s impossible to conduct these conversations in 140 characters and so here I am, writing another angry blog.
The tweeter in question worked in the media, hardly a surprise as they are the worst perpetrators of this arts vs health argument. And it’s a ridiculous tabloid argument that has no place in a reasoned discussion about how public money is spent and what sort of society we want to build. Having said that I do think for people who don’t follow it as closely as me it might make some basic sense. So let’s talk in facts not some fantasy game show were people are being asked to choose between a child with cancer or an banker guzzling champagne in a box at the Opera House.
Northern Ireland historically gets considerably more investment per head than any other part of the UK. Despite this our investment in the arts has consistently been at about half p/h of the rest of the UK. At pre-cut investment levels the OU is folding and others will follow because with the current level of investment we can’t sustain our flagship organisations
This funding represents 0.1% of the total block grant. A one thousandth. The proposed cuts will save a tenth of a thousandth. A ten thousandth? See the wee pie chart I did, that’s the arts. How much do you think you’re going to save cutting 10% of next to nothing?
The ten thousandth that goes to ACNI, (not even all of that gets to the sector cause it has to pay for the Arts Council too), is just less than £11m in the proposed DCAL budget. DCAL, who dishes this money out, is proposing to keep £18.5m just to run the department. So the department is costing nearly twice as much as the arts investment.
The arts sector is not a luxury item that can be cut with impunity. It is a sector, with jobs, investment, exports and economic benefit. Why is it easier to cut than tourism, agriculture, Invest NI, youth services, stadiums, urban regeneration etc etc. Do we have to engage in some sort of mass self-flagellation? Are we not allowed to have fun making the country better or is fun banned until the waiting times in the casualty in the Royal come down?
Basically what’s going to happen here in the next 10 years is a quantum shift in public spending. Our block grant is going to be hammered. Even a 100% cut in the arts would not begin to solve this problem, yes savings have to be made but the savings being made by cutting the arts paltry allocation will make tiny savings but devastate the sector for decades. We’ve underinvested in one of our best assets for years and now when we need it most we’re going to cut one of the most effective economic drivers we have.
But we also need to ask ourselves what sort of a country do we want to live in? To paraphrase Douglas Copeland are you happy to be a cheetah in a zoo? Safe, fed and watered but never really able to run like you were born to. Never able to run really fast.
Even if it wasn’t stupid, pointless and ignorant, even if it could save the NHS I still wouldn’t cut the arts, cause what the point of life without quality of life? For everyone, not just those who can afford it. As has been quoted much in recent days, what exactly are we fighting for?