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Proposal for Governmental Support for the arts

During World War Two Churchill is reported to have said “what are we fighting for” when someone suggested cutting the arts budget to support the war. Unfortunately this hasn’t been verified but an equally powerful one is ‘The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them.’ Whether the original quote was said or not, in 1946, once the war ended, the Arts Council of Great Britain was formed out of the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts. The CEMA was a body set up in 1940 to promote and maintain British culture during the war. 

I’m starting with this example specifically referencing World War Two because the current Tory Government have consistently used war rhetoric around their effort, or in their words “fight”, against Covid 19. Yes they haven’t been doing that well but that’s beside the point. If they want to treat this public health crisis as the nationalistic war they so badly want then, when the fight is happening, they should seriously plan for what the ending will look like. So this blog is going to set out what I think should happen and how it can happen. 

Support the Artists to Support the Arts

While the Self Employed Income Support is good and useful it has some serious gaps. Musicians often teach as a substantial part of their income and if this represents more than 50% of their overall earnings they aren’t eligible for SEISS also many composers run Limited Companies and also aren’t eligible. It is also doesn’t take into account if someone has been off sick or on maternity, Pregnant then Screwed are a group taking the Government to court for indirect sex discrimination within the programme. On top of all this if you are eligible for it, payments stop in August. This is nowhere near long enough to support the Arts industry. Shops might be opening in June and July, but venues aren’t seriously going to be opening again until later in the year at the very earliest but more likely some point in 2021. 

Composers are going to have an even longer knock on effect with reduced PRS payments because of no concerts taking place and no license fees being paid by shops who play the radio. 

In short the Government needs to extend the SEISS beyond August for the Arts industry and expend it, so it truly covers everyone. We are going to be one of the last to recover. 

Alongside this there needs to be a review into streaming payments. This is something I’ve been shouting about for years but thankfully has now grown into a proper movement through #fixstreaming. The review needs to look at payments from the streaming companies to musicians, labels and composers. It should move to a user-centric payment system and include a higher percentage of the distribution to composers and performers through PRS and PPL. This would help everyone in the sector earn fairly from the boost in streaming across classical music during lockdown.  

Support the Arts Councils to Support the Arts

Since 1994 the regional Arts Councils have existed. These are Arts Council England, Creative Scotland (formally Scottish Arts Council), Arts Council of Wales and Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Each has an understanding of their own patches of the UK, but all have the role of supporting the arts, generally through granting large amounts to of money projects involving the arts in some way. Over the last 10 years this money has been reduced in real terms through austerity, a philistine government and a reduction in spending on the National Lottery.

In 2010 Arts Council England received £453 million from the Government compared to £508 million in 2019. Again according to the Bank of England Inflation calculator £453 million today would be worth £585 million. So this is a cut in real terms of £77 million. And that 13% cut is before taking into account reduction in Lottery income which, on my reading of ACE’s accounts dropped from £172.2 million in 2010 to £18.5 million in 2019. I find such a dramatic drop in the income from National Lottery surprising even though I have read multiple times that there has been a drop. I can’t find any other reference to Lottery support, so it seems Lottery support as plummeted from £222 million (adjusted for inflation) to £18.5 million. If anyone knows better, please do correct me. ACE’s accounts state their total income was ‘£604 million’ so £780 million adjusted for inflation. Meaning their total budgets for the years are:

  • 2010 – £780 million (adjusted for inflation)
  • 2019 – £526 million

Meaning a reduction of £254 million or 33% decrease.

For Creative Scotland the Government Grant in 2011 was £53 million, in 2019 it was £62 million. Based on the Bank of England inflation tracker £53 million would equate to £65.08 million in 2018 so about £3 million reduction or about 5%. But Creative Scotland’s Lottery income has gone from £25 million in 2011 to £27 million in 2019 which is a reduction of £3.7 million in real terms (£25 million in 2011 should be £30.7 million in 2018 based on the Bank of England). Their total budgets in their accounts for the years are:

  • 2010 – £97.9 million (adjusted for inflation)
  • 2019 – £62 million

Meaning a reduction of £35.9 million or 37% decrease.

This reduction in available grant money has meant that getting funding is much more competitive and individuals and organisations have been forced to find more profit driven income and donation models that don’t just involve the Arts Council. Think comparable to the USA though the problem with the UK is there isn’t the incentives or track record that the USA has. This means even large organisations are sitting on a knife edge of instabulity with budget predictions based on previous experiences. Covid 19 is totally unknown.

There should be an increase to the Arts Councils’ budgets across the board to at very least pre 2010 levels adjusted for inflation and taking into account any fluctuation for Lottery Funding. Through this one decision arts funding would increase by around 30%.

The Arts Councils have also done tremendous work in supplying emergency grants to arts workers through reappropriating their normal funding strands. All money that has been dispersed this way should be reimbursed by the government so that the arts councils can give grants for more artistic work rather than just survival of the workers. Doing this now would allow artists to develop ideas and work as lockdown eases and into the future. 

Support the Venues and Promoters to Support the Arts

Anyone who requires a venue and a physically present audience will need extra support into the future due to social distancing and the lack of confidence for audiences to return (ignoring the moral case for putting on an event or not in the first place). To counter this when a venue is open there should be a government grant for every ticket sold based on the reduced capacity. This would work in a similar way to Gift Aid donations. 

Let’s take a 1000 seater venue. Due to social distancing it can only seat 250 people, or 75% decrease. For each ticket sold the Government would provide a grant based on the formula: 

(Normal Capacity / New Capacity) * Ticket price

This would mean that the 1000 seater venue in normal times selling out at £10 a ticket would bring in £10,000 but selling out during Covid would only bring in £2500. Taking the formula into account the Government would give a grant of £40 per ticket, or in this case 4 times the ticket price, for every ticket sold and so the venue would, if selling out, have the same income per concert. As this is a grant based on each ticket it can easily be scaled as social distancing changes. 

Within classical music I would suggest this grant be tied to specific conditions such as presenting at least 25% music by living composers. I’d say that at least half of those should be British or British based composers and this presentation should be throughout the season and not just packaged away into contemporary concerts. This would act as a way to show audiences what British composers are writing and provide an income for the composers as well as promoting and supporting British culture. 

This pause on activity is an opportunity to lobby for the kind of arts industry we want and not just presenting a glorified museum every Friday evening.

Turbine Hall at Tate Modern

Support the Arts to Support the Arts

Finally the UK Government needs to stop being apologetic about the arts. The arts provide £10.8bn to the economy. Even if you just want to see arts as entertainment that’s still more than footballs £7.8bn from the premier league. But the arts are more than that. Everything that we do every day has the arts in some form at its heart. From the obvious examples like the music you are listening to while reading this (it better be mine, there’s a playlist to the right!), the film you are watching or the game you are playing to the chair you are sitting in or the laptop you are using both designed by a designer, an artist, or even the car you are driving having it’s sound designed by an acoustic engineer, I’d argue an artist or at very least effected by artistic sensibilities.

Thankfully the Scottish Government are much more supportive and understanding in the power of culture but their budget is hobbled by Westminster.

Where Will the Money Come From to Support the Arts?

In short the magic money tree. There is one, there always has been one. 

The estimated cost of the crisis-related packages (furlough scheme, SEISS, small business grants etc) is about £100bn according to The Office for Budget Responsibility. However, in 2008 the Government paid £133bn to bail out the banks, or about £179bn in 2019 adjusted for inflation (using 2019 because BoE calculator only goes to 2019). This means that for a comparable economic disaster the Government is only investing about 55% of what it paid the banks. Investing is the optimum word here because all of the support schemes are taxable and going directly to people who will spend it on food, accommodation and transport. They are there to encourage economic activity so the Government will earn tax from that activity. In 1833 the British Government paid £20m, or about 40% of their usual expenditure, to owners of freed slaves. This is the equivalent of £328bn based on the 2019 spending. In other words there’s still about another £228bn left to spend. 

That’s not going to happen, I know but if even 1% of that was spent just on the arts think of how much cultural activity could take place with an extra £2.3bn. And, based on ACE commissioned report, that would mean increased economic activity greater than is put in. “For every £1 in turnover directly generated by the arts and culture industry, an additional£1.24in output is supported in the wider economy”. So if they invested the £2.3bn into the arts then there would be £5.152bn economic activity, or about a 50% increase! 

I’m not economist, I’m a composer rambling about ways to support the arts but given the numbers involved in the last few paragraphs it seems obvious more support is possible. We just have to put pressure on the Government, maybe through a footballer, to increase investment in the arts.

The arts are everywhere and in everything. Take the arts out and we have a cold dispassionate world. We will be living in one of those for the next few months so please, we need the government to support the arts to make it all a bit warmer for everyone and “promote and maintain British culture”.

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