Could there be a Brexit boost for British arts?

Could there be a Brexit boost for British arts?


norman lebrecht

August 25, 2016

In the new issue of Standpoint, I survey the post-referendum arts wasteland.

The further we get from the Brexit referendum the less we know about the ultimate outcome, be it in this lifetime or the next. All we know for sure is that predictions are not worth the paper they are printed on and, as far as the performing arts are concerned, less will definitely mean less in every sphere of operation. I hear immediate concerns for orchestral tours and operatic exchanges between the UK and continental Europe. At the most basic level, an Estonian diva summoned at short notice from Turin to replace a Desdemona at Covent Garden will never get on stage in time if she has to obtain a UK work permit and clear the endless “all others” queue at inhuman Heathrow. Opera chiefs are spending their summer working out alternative scenarios.

Not one person in authority in British arts, not a single one, believed that Brexit would be a good thing. And the view from the grass roots is even gloomier, judging by messages from thousands of professional musicians on my social media. I promised to make no predictions, so let’s wait and see.

What is incontrovertible, however, is that when the summer festivals end and the real world reopens its box-office everything will have changed. Horizons have shrunk. Expectations are shorter, ambitions curtailed. Lines of disengagement are being drawn.

Which, let it be clearly stated, is no bad thing.

Now read on here.




  • Virenque says:

    That will be the end of the MEDIA programm regarding the support of non-Uk audio-visual works in the UK and the suppoort of UK works in the EU (ask any arthouse cinéma or producer) unless the UK remains associated to the programm like Switzerland!

  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    Very interesting article, with a viewpoint I’ve been defending ever since June 23rd. Anyone who is a paid-up member of the international circuit will have seen that foreign is not necessarily better, just more exotic. If the situation means that home-grown talent – of which there has never been a shortage, far from it – gets a better crack of the whip, then it will have been worth it, at least as far as the arts goes.

    I’m currently in Santiago de Chile, where operas are regularly double-cast: one ‘international’, the other, monikered ‘estelar’, comprised of South American talent, the vast majority Chilean, some Argentinian. This cast is invariably excellent, the house is always full, the audience on average decades younger than in Europe. What’s more, even the young people are well-dressed, but that’s another debate entirely. I’d love to see something similar at the Garden; the talent is certainly there for it.

  • Maria Brewin says:

    “Not one person in authority in British arts, not a single one, believed that Brexit would be a good thing.”

    Have you considered that, maybe, the lack of diversity of opinion amongst those who lead charmed lives by ordinary standards might have been part of the problem, and the reason why large numbers of ordinary people voted for Brexit?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Indeed, yes.

    • Alexander Hall says:

      Charmed lives sometimes – not always – lead to deeper insights. The trouble with the much-spouted democratic principle is that a good many individuals never concern themselves with the inevitable consequences of their actions and vote on the basis of of how they feel on one particular day about nothing much in general. Referendums – and plenty of good democrats have found such mechanisms greatly flawed – would by now have given us the reintroduction of hanging and flogging. At the risk of being thought elitist, the masses do not always know better.

  • John G. Deacon says:

    Is it not time you put an end to the ReMOANERS “piffle” talk on this matter where absolutely nothing is yet known and where every sign (so far) indicates that Brexit was the right route to take ?

  • Old Whig says:

    Interesting perspective, Norman. I’m generally inclined to agree.

    But you appear to rely on the assumption that Brexit will be a more-or-less radical cutting of the cord between the UK and EU.

    I do not think that that will be the case, not least because 1) key Leave-ers (e.g., Hannan) always promoted a “half-way” solution like Norway and Switzerland; 2) Theresa May, as a Remain-er herself, will not be inclined to sever ties so completely; and 3) even the hard-core Leave-ers have acknowledged that opinion is rather closely divided, and so the final arrangement will have to reflect some sort of compromise.

    I think it is likely that the ultimate compromise will include a large degree of free movement of labor. (Hannan has said as much.)

  • Old Whig says:

    Also, I understand the tone of Norman’s article to be one not of confidence but (at best) one of cautious optimism.

    That’s still a significant shift from a few weeks ago, when you suggested that Brexit “crashed the country, putting us into our worst isolation since 1940. The arts can heal many things, but not this monstrous breach of faith, this wrecking ball.”

    I’m encouraged, but curious: what accounts for the change of heard?