Across the country, cuts in the Arts are beginning to bite. We in Nottingham should probably count ourselves lucky that venues like the Nottingham Contemporary and New Art Exchange opened before the coalition entered the frame. Though both galleries are facing imminent Arts Council funding cuts, at least they are here, open, and thriving. Head down the M1 to Leicester and it’s a different picture: plans for a new gallery in the city have been scrapped, which is a blow to Leicester’s contemporary art scene. With cuts hitting the police, social services, and education, there may be a temptation to see arts as luxuries – areas that are ripe for making a few cuts. “The money has got to come from somewhere,” says Robert Wann, Leicester City Council’s lead member for culture, “I think it would be wrong, while we’re making people redundant at the council, to continue funding an expensive art gallery.” You can’t help but wonder how attitudes like this might have affected Nottingham’s galleries, had the cuts come a little earlier.
Despite arts seeming obvious areas in which to save a few (hundred thousand) pennies during times of economic crisis, they are also areas that people feel particularly passionate about. High-profile campaigns indicate that the public is fighting back in order to save cultural services and institutions from the chop. When the news broke that the DH Lawrence heritage centre in Eastwood may be forced to close, everyone from Salman Rushdie to Peter Barlow ‘off of Corrie’ joined the campaign to save it. The final decision has not yet been made, with Broxtowe Council torn between the best social option, which is to leave the centre as it is, and the best economic option, which is to sell it. Either way, the council has pledged to retain the DH Lawrence exhibition, even if they are forced to sell off the building. The question remains whether this was down to its high profile supporters or a genuine concern for a mainstay of the East Midland’s cultural heritage.
But cuts to arts and culture go beyond galleries and museums. Community-based arts organisations don’t necessarily gain a high degree of media attention, yet they serve a more important function than people may realise. Recently, Impact spoke to City Arts, a Radford-based organisation that brings the arts to a range of community groups, including young people and those with mental health issues. I met with Chief Executive Madeleine Holmes and Creative Programmes Manager Kate Duncan to discuss how the cuts have affected City Arts, the local community, and beyond.
“People who aren’t familiar with the arts sector could see it as a luxury, but it’s more than that,” explains Duncan, “It’s a different way of seeing the world.” Like many arts organisations, City Arts will face a 6.9% cut in funding from the Arts Council next year. However, the Arts Council has “worked very hard to stagger the impact of funding cuts”, according to Holmes, and the real changes will come from the “accumulated cuts”, when funding from local authorities is likely to be reduced more significantly. Arts organisations must look for new ways to generate income, which can be difficult in a period of such uncertainty.
Speaking more broadly, Holmes has noticed “a rising level of anxiety about what is going to happen when allowances are cut” amongst people that the organisation currently works with. And similarly for young people, “Arts activity in education is being cut, so those avenues for young people to explore their potential are going”. Eventually, this closing off of opportunities will have wide-reaching consequences, “We as an organisation, and the arts generally, need fresh talent coming through,” says Holmes, “We need things to stay innovative and exciting.”
On the other hand, there are positives to the current situation. “Although City Arts faces a lot of challenges, I don’t feel completely pessimistic,” contests Holmes, “City Arts has been going for more than thirty years and it has weathered an awful lot of storms.” Maybe arts organisations will need to be more flexible and open to change in order to flourish in the future. Perhaps other organisations can take inspiration from the City Arts attitude to the threat of cuts in funding: “Maybe the debate itself is no bad thing, because it keeps the arts at the forefront of people’s thinking”, says Holmes. “It’s only when you’ve lost something that you actually know how important it was.”