Arts editor Lorne Jackson assesses the impact of spending cuts on the arts in the West Midlands.
So, the phony war is over. Politicians have spat babble and bile across the dispatch box, now it’s time for the bullets and bloodshed.
Economic theory is replaced by money-pinching facts.
And here are those facts, as far as the arts organisations of the Midlands are concerned.
The Arts Council faces a funding cut of 29.6 per cent and has been told to limit cuts to its own regularly funded organisations, which include orchestras and theatres across England, to 15 per cent.
Alan Davey, chief executive of Arts Council England, said: “This cut will inevitably have a significant impact on the cultural life of the country.”
He said implementing the cuts was a “tough task” but added: “We are determined to manage the cuts in the best possible way for the benefit of the whole arts and cultural sector.”
Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “To deal with an unprecedented financial deficit we have been forced to make some incredibly difficult decisions. But, in the current economic climate, this is a good settlement for DCMS’s sectors”
Nineteen quangos will also be abolished or reformed. However, free entry to museums and galleries will remain.
Creative organisations in the region have been bracing themselves for this kind of news for some time.
The Government made its intentions clear towards the arts sector as far back as July, when it asked all major arts funding bodies to show how they would manage cuts of 25 per cent or 30 per cent.
At the time, Ministers said that private money would help plug the gap.
However, the theory remains untested, and some of the country’s leading philanthropists have written to David Cameron, warning that this ambition is overly optimistic.
It was always likely that the arts sector would take a major hit.
Arts are particularly vulnerable, as many people view what they offer as a range of delightful frivolities, welcome in times of prosperity, easily jettisoned during times of austerity.
In war, we drape ourselves in khaki – not tutus and tights.
The public certainly doesn’t seem to be backing the protection of arts organisations.
A recent survey suggested that two-thirds of people were in agreement with the Government’s stance on cutting arts funding and increasing reliance on private cash.
A fifth of the 2,022 British adults questioned in the poll – commissioned by organisers of the Threadneedle arts prize – said the visual arts should not be given any government funding.
The Department of Culture, Media and Sport has already pulled the plug on the UK Film Council, which costs £15 million a year and employs 75 people, along with 15 other bodies, including the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.
Chris O’Neil, executive dean of Birmingham Institute of Art And Design, fears grim days ahead, though he remains bullish about the importance of the arts in the health and wealth of the region.
“In Birmingham and the rest of the West Midlands, arts and culture have helped turn the region into a vibrant and creative sector,” he argued.
“If you want to attract creative and intelligent people to work here, you really have to offer them something culturally. If we are stripped of our galleries and ballet and music, we may as well just be a trading estate in Slough. And trading estates in Slough don’t attract the best businesses in the world, that’s for sure.”
He added: “The arts aren’t just a magnet to attract people to the region. They also drive other industries.”
Mr O’Neil explained that for industry, flare and design are as important as advances in technology. And the impetus for innovations in design often come from creatives in a city.
The reason that computer game design has been such a prominent industry in the Midlands is that there is a healthy creative culture for game designers to feed off.
“I first moved to Birmingham 18 years ago,” Mr O’Neil said. “And it was a pit. Dark and arcane. But the growth of the cultural sector helped to turn the lights on.
“Now we are an amazing centre for creative talent, and that is something that must be protected, though I don’t think it’s something that can grow and flourish with the cuts that have been made.
“Regrettably there are some serious challenges ahead. Big business must understand its obligation to protect itself. And it can only do that by protecting the cultural milieu.
“There will be lots of arts casualties in the times ahead, and I’m desperately sad about that.”
Of course, art doesn’t evaporate when it loses funding from the public purse.
Before getting their big break, The Beatles slept in vans while touring, lived in squalor in Hamburg, performed in dives in Liverpool.
James Joyce revolutionised the art of the novel, and he did not do so with a grant.
Instead, he lived in poverty, making sacrifices for his craft.
Many will no doubt claim that those who work in the arts industries should be left alone to struggle in their musty garrets.
After all, in a time of austerity, government spending should go towards greater priorities, such as health, education and defence. Shouldn’t it?
Mr O’Neil said: “The worry is that the cuts will inhibit the growth of more challenging art forms. We will end up with an X Factor culture, where everything is all about Saturday evening mediocrity.
“Investment in the arts allows people to study their craft and develop new ways of thinking. It gives potentially great artists the chance to push the boundaries.
“That doesn’t mean I think that anybody should be getting grants. Just like anybody else, I’m driven mad by grant junkies. Darwinism must be brought to bear on the arts, too.
“But the truth is that most artists don’t want to be art junkies. They don’t just want to take government money and create obscure art in a darkened place. They strive for a proper audience.
“What arts funding does provide is a necessary safety net, which allows artists to experiment and take risks. That’s why there is a role for public money still to play.”
Jonathan Watkins, director of the Ikon Gallery, said the cuts would mean yearly exhibitions being reduced from six to five. There would also be cuts in staff numbers, and the second gallery in Digbeth, Ikon Eastside, may now be under threat of closure.
“That’s a whole other story,” he said. “The Eastside gallery going would be a major blow to Birmingham, because it’s a venue for young up and coming artists. Birmingham needs as much art as it can get. Less than enough is not enough, I’m afraid.
"But nevertheless, we have our eyes on the long term, and won’t stop believing and moving forward with as much energy as ever.”