With talk of hospitals going on hold and new schools being cancelled, the question of cuts to the arts may seem like a timid concern.
But it’s a question that bears as much consideration to us here in Liverpool as the question of what is going to happen to our frontline services. After all, we live in a city that since Capital of Culture has dedicated itself to becoming a creative economy.
The arts sector is hugely important because of the contribution it makes in bringing tourists to the city, as well as providing entertainment and education for us, the citizens. If the sector is undermined by cuts, Liverpool must suffer too.
The news that the coalition wanted to restructure England’s Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) must have been a shock to arts administrators across the land, not least here. The Northwest Development Agency (NWDA) has contributed to countless projects in Liverpool in the past: the King’s Dock redevelopment to name one.
It has promised money to the new Open Eye gallery, due to open on Mann Island in early 2011. It has also pledged money to the unfinished Museum of Liverpool, and to plans to build a new Everyman theatre on the present site. Pledges, with RDAs having to make £270m of cuts in 2010-11, that may now be reduced.
Combined with this is the news that the Arts Council England (ACE) has been told to make cuts of £19m to it’s 2010-11 budget. ACE is bearing the brunt of the cuts by dipping into its reserves, meaning most of the organisations it supports will only see a reduction in funding of 0.5 per cent this year.
Still, the list of Liverpool businesses losing that half a per cent makes for lengthy reading: Africa Oye, the Bluecoat Display Centre, Deaf & Disability Arts (DaDa), FACT, Liverpool Biennial, the Everyman & Playhouse, Metal, Open Eye Gallery, the Unity Theatre and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society, to name but two handfuls.
Find Your Talent, a scheme that encourages young people to participate in cultural activities being piloted in Merseyside, has also been hit. Creativity, Culture and Education (CCE), charged by the last government with delivering Find Your Talent, is one of the organisations ACE decided not to shield in its cuts: ACE funding is being reined in by four per cent this year.
The result is that, after existing commitments have been honoured, Find Your Talent will be wound up. It is a blow to working relationships struck up between schools and children’s centres in Kensington, Kirkby and St Helens; and the likes of Tate, the Bluecoat and National Museums Liverpool.
CCE also delivers Creative Partnerships in England, money from which helps National Museums Liverpool work with schools and children in the area. Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has said that CCE will ‘absorb the cut’ to protect Creative Partnerships. It’s good news and bad: de-spun, ‘absorb the cuts’ may mean redundancies for CCE staff, but there is some comfort in knowing that Creative Partnerships is safe — for now.
To understand what will happen in the longer term, we have to look again at changes to ACE and NWDA funding. The Arts Council England’s budget for 2011-14 will be decided in the government’s spending review, details of which will be announced in autumn. Cuts are again likely, and it seems ACE will be unable to shield the arts as well as it has done this year. Africa Oye and the rest will undoubtedly see their ACE funding cut again.
Meanwhile, NWDA and the rest of RDAs are to be replaced by local enterprise partnerships. Exactly how these will work, and how that will affect the amount of money available, will be decided in a White Paper due later in 2010.
Arts organisations in Liverpool will undoubtedly rally by using other funding options already in their arsenal — sponsorship and membership schemes, for example. National Lottery money for arts & heritage looks set to increase, with an extra £100m being added to the existing pot if parliament gives new legislation an easy ride in September.
The kindness of strangers may take up some of the burden, or so the government has the audacity to hope, having proposed a national day to encourage volunteering and charitable giving. A ‘range of measures’ to encourage philanthropy is another of Downing Street’s bright but vague ideas; although Arts & Business, set up to promote that very thing across the UK, has seen its budget slashed.
Together with the expected change in local authority budgets also set to come out of the spending review — Liverpool City Council part-funds many of the businesses listed above — the future is uncertain.
It would be rash to suggest that flagship projects such as the rebuilding of the Everyman or the opening of the Museum of Liverpool won’t go ahead. But such projects may be delayed or scaled back. It would also be unfair to start placing bets on which of our favourite venues will have shut up shop, for good, by 2015.
Between now and then it’s reasonable to predict a lot of pain, however, particularly for the arts workers in the form of pay freezes and redundancies. As a result, the pool of talent we rely on to make these artistic endeavours viable can only diminish.