UK arts are booming – before the bust

A new report by Arts Council England, published today amid much back-slapping, finds that the culture sector grew by 10.4% in 2015 to £11.8 billion, five times as fast as the rest of the economy.

But that was before the Brexit referendum. Every indicator we have seen since then is of slowdown and regression.

Sorry for the dampener, but that’s how it is.


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  • “five times as fast as the rest of the economy.”

    Five times! So what was holding back the rest of the economy before 2015?

  • Yes! In fact, I have been frantically attending every concert, opera and theatre performance going because I know that come the day of Brexit, I will immediately stop ever attending anything again. I suspect that my behaviour is matched by the public at large.

  • “Every indicator”? Really? 2017 Proms attendance up, brand new music college in Birmingham, ABO reporting increased numbers of concerts and increased attendance, the Rattle effect at the Barbican and the new hall for London moving forward despite the snipers… if that’s “slowdown and regression”, let’s have more!

    • If there is a “Brexit effect” already having an impact on the arts, I’d query why – since brexit hasn’t happened yet, and anything currently on stage (i.e. where an impact could be measured) was programmed in somewhat in advance of the referendum, with there being zero impact thus far on the possibility of continuing as if the vote had gone the other way. In other words, if there’s a current measurable decline, it was built in from before the vote, and thus has nothing to do with it.

      In news from other sectors, job growth in the UK is some 817,000 greater than predicted by HM Treasury; how’s that for Brexit effect! Up by 317k (instead of the gloomily predicted “if you vote out we’ll lose half-a-million jobs very quickly). GDP in the UK is up 6.1% on their predictions too. None of this suggests the Arts are uniquely likely to be horribly affected “by Brexit”.

  • The bigger problem is that an independent body is parroting government paradigms of economic “growth” as its choice of yardstick. How does a figure such as “£11.8 billion” elucidate the state of the *arts*? Does it even elucidate the living standards and working conditions of the artists?

    • The UK arts sector is very good at generating Potemkin financial statistics, based on incredibly flimsy sets of assumptions but designed to look good in press releases and to be reproduced by people who have neither the will – nor the knowledge of economics – to question them with any rigour. A regular favourite is a claim that public money invested in the arts generates a “return on investment” of x10, x100: whatever. Of course if that was actually true, there’d be no need for any state subsidy of UK arts at all: with those rates of return on “investment” orchestras could simply float themselves on the stock exchange. There’d be no shortage of wealthy investors.

      • That’s not quite right.
        I don’t disagree with you that such figures are mostly hot air, but what is meant by “return on investment” is for the city or indeed the country at large, e.g. from increased tourism income. So the argument goes that since an orchestra’s activity helps to generate profits elsewhere that don’t end up in its own pockets, it’s only fair that some of that money should be given to the orchestra as subsidy.

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