The Big Freeze

One thing I’ve learning about the Arts world is that it’s endlessly concerned with funding, and that funding is the most fickle of mistresses, coming and going like the wind. A phrase that popped into my consciousness recent is “the coming ice age”, meaning, I think, the sudden and cruel termination of a decade or so of investment in arts and culture as the political climate changes.

Waiting for the axe to fall by Norman Lebrecht sumarises this concern well, looking at how proposed budget cuts – “Gordon’s big freeze” – might affect museums and galleries.

The national museums have put forward three options if cuts are imposed on the scale intended. They can reintroduce admission charges; they can stop lending items and exhibits to the rest of the country; or they can shut departments, buildings and entire institutions.

The removal of entry charges five years ago resulted in 85 million extra museum visitors and is being trumpeted as one of New Labour’s triumphs. There is no way the government will allow that egalitarian policy to be reversed.

Regional distribution is inviolate in much the same way. Although it costs London a fortune in wages and insurance to send cultural treasures around the nation, politicians are committed to equal distribution and will enforce continued touring.

That makes closures unavoidable.

He concludes:

We have been here before. In the 1990s, the Tories froze the arts to pay for the Millennium Dome. Now New Labour aims to rob the arts to pay for the Olympics. It is a petty act – the British Museum’s £46.8 million grant barely matches one ward in an NHS teaching hospital – and it is unnecessary by any rational accounting. The Games are ephemeral entertainments, museums bear witness forever.

The whole piece is well worth a read.

How does this relate to Birmingham? I’m in no position to make pronouncements but as we see an increase in funding for creativity around Eastside it might be worth noting where that money is actually going. Is it for “ephemeral entertainments” or things with more substance that will form a bedrock from which the city can grow?

D’log has more links and commentary.