Why England is the last to save its arts

Why England is the last to save its arts


norman lebrecht

July 03, 2020

Every other European country has delivered a rescue package for shuttered institutions and frustrated artists. In London, the authorities keep promising and never delivering.

Why is that?

1 Low priority, although Boris (to my certain knowledge) personally understands the importance of the arts and backed them vociferously when he was Mayor of London. Gove, too, is a vigorous supporter.

2 Too much firefighting on other fronts – we do have the worst Covid record in Europe.

But critically:

3 There is no single person who can take the decision. Arts funding is nominally in the hands of Arts Council England, which needs approval from the Department of Culture Media and Sport, which passes the buck back to ACE, which kicks it up to DCMS… and so it goes.

I have argued for years against this pointless duplication of effort. Right now, it is literally killing the arts.

The Culture Secretary says he is working hard on a solution. In the interests of efficiency, he ought to be out of a job.

playing in Trafalgar Square, outside the DCMS



  • CA says:

    Only America could match this…or do worse….

    • Olassus says:

      Stateside it’s all about liability now, without end in sight or even stewardship of the problem. Slipped Disc has reported the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra canceling (June 18) through December, and Houston Grand Opera canceling (June 24) until April, trajectories so lengthy they cannot be based only on the progress of Covid-19 or its remedies. Doing “worse,” as you say, will see U.S. arts groups unable to restart because their exposure to lawsuits remains undefined and thus unmanageable. And stewardship, when it comes, will be state by state.

      • V.Lind says:

        I know the US is litigious beyond belief, but who is suing whom for what? Do you mean people will be suing some of these orchestras because they have been out of work? It’s not the orchestras’ fault. Even the US insisted on a lockdown.

  • Anon says:

    No mention of the person who runs the country – Mr D. Cummings. If he cared there would have been a bailout already.

  • Anon says:

    Arts = largely remainers, so low on Dom’s priority list.

    • Allen says:

      If you really must attribute blame, I suggest you put your obsession with Mr Cummings aside and consider how the philistine MSM, both Left and Right (and yes, including PARTS of the BBC) would react to what they would see as over-generous handouts. I can see it now: “Taking money from the poor to give to toffs/dead white males/the rich etc (take your pick)”.

      Art institutions in many European countries are already subsidised more highly than in the UK. Any rescue package would have to be much higher to replace income from lost ticket sales.

      It’s a long-standing problem, not the fault of Cummings or Johnson.

      • V. Lind says:

        Well, it’s their problem now. The question on the table is what are they going to do about it?

        As soon as I see “MSM” I know we are dealing with a rightwinger. What media do you rely on? Presidential TWEETS? Facebook “likes”? Guido Fawkes?

  • batonbaton says:

    Years ago, I had the pleasure of sitting behind Boris at Garsington, for Mozart’s Figaro. He spoke with friends in a quite sensitive and sensible way about the opera.

    • Tone row says:

      “Years ago”


    • Simon Behrman says:

      I’m quite sure he empathises with Count Almaviva!

    • Maria says:

      Boris is far more educated in more ways, including opera and classical music, than people will give him credit for just because he has an informal style of speaking and ability to laugh at himself. He also speaks many foreign languages, which is more than you can say about any of us Brits as a master of course. You don’t have to be a Tory or agree with his politics and just knock down Boris. I speaks a practising freelance British singer and now a teacher of singing, not an armchair expert and not Conservative. But the arts that we get paid for, as opposed to street art, has a huge problem as the arts are no longer built into the education system, particularly singing and classical music. Hardly any State primary school teachers can play the piano but use backing CDs and are teaching music of some sort of pop level, with kids singing in their boots! No wonder years later that there is a lack of appreciation in the lower classes it then all becomes something for the elite! This pandemic has shown up.holes in all societies.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    Unlike our dear Elizabeth II, who apparently once replied to somebody about Figaro “That’s the one about the pin,isn’t it?” (latching on to one of the most trivial details, bless her)

    • Anon says:

      And the most beautiful cavatina, to be fair to HRH.

    • Helen Richardson says:

      She is alleged to have said many things, if you read the tabloids.

      • John Borstlap says:

        I thought her great art has always been to say nothing, which is quite an achievement, given her visibility and aurability.

        The only time queen Victoria could not longer restrain herself and indeed said something, it was carried through the ages (‘We are not amused’).

  • Derek says:

    The government either has no real appreciation of music and the arts or just does not see it as a vote winner or a priority.

    There is no plan or set of objectives and no understanding of the impending crisis for live music and theatre.

    I am beginning to wonder if the Minister for Culture and Sport was asked “Has he ever seen Timpani?” that he would reply “Which football team does he play for?”

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    ACE is more woke than awake to the devastation that is being inflicted by a Government where Media and Sport matter far more to them than Culture, just as this weekend is all about getting the pubs open so that Boris can show that he knows the importance of getting back to ‘normal’ as fast as he can, not least in order to recover some of the sheen from his tarnished reputation . The fact that Culture figures nowhere in his definition of normality indicates why ACE is keeping a low profile. A visit to their website will show where their priorities lie and they are not around the Arts, other than those that apparently matter to the CEO who really does notseem to have a view on what is, or more critically, us not, going on. Dowden should go but he is far from being the only one.

  • Emil says:

    The reason is very simple: you elect Tories, you get Tory policies.
    None of this is surprising or shocking, really.

    • Alan says:

      I think a little more complex Emil. Still, if you and your followers who agreed are satisfied with this simplistic view then I’m sure you are happy.

      • Emil says:

        What I see is a Tory government that’s been in power since 2009, during which time support for the arts has plummeted. Concerns for the arts has been completely absent from public debate, not least on the Brexit front. And this government is one that sees “Trident Renewal” as a better ambassador for global Britain than a strong arts sector. Says it all, really.

        This is not surprising, but entirely coherent with long-term Tory policy and ideology (at least, Thatcher onwards). Expecting anything different is misguided.

        Do please explain the “complexity” I’m missing.

    • Allen says:

      So tell us what K Starmer has to say about this.

      • Stephen Diviani says:

        Keir Starmer isn’t the PM with an eighty seat majority, so stop deflecting. Osborne, like Grove, enjoys swanning around Bayreuth while slashing arts funding back home. Labour governments have always invested in the arts; Tory ones disinvest.

        • Allen says:

          Nothing whatsoever preventing Starmer having an alternative policy on the arts. What is it – you haven’t said.

          Osborne and Gove also support the arts back home.

          Labour governments spend more on everything, until the money runs out. That’s their problem.

      • Emil says:

        I am somewhat more interested in knowing what the party that’s been in power since 2009 has to say on this topic, than seek to deflect blame onto the minority opposition party.
        As for what it’s worth, Starmer has advocated continuing the job security program until 2021, which would among others benefit…the arts!

    • M Ahern says:

      Really? Selected paragraphs from the Guardian, 14th December 2004:

      “Leading arts figures reacted with fury yesterday after the government announced a £30m cut in funding in real terms – the first such setback to the arts since the Labour victory in 1997.

      The Department of Culture, Media and Sport announced that its allocation of funding to Arts Council England would be frozen at its 2005 level of £413m until 2008. Taking into account Treasury inflation estimates, the grant will be worth £10m less in the financial year 2006-07 and £20m less in 2007-08, meaning a total shortfall of £30m in real terms.

      The composer Michael Berkeley called for Tessa Jowell, the culture secretary, to “consider her position”. The reason Sir Simon Rattle had abandoned Britain for Berlin, he said, was that the conductor could not “face fighting the system year in, year out and talking about money rather than music”.

      He added: “This country produces great performers and creators, and these cuts abuse their gifts. What are we – and history – to make of a socialism that freezes the creative sap of an entire generation?””

      Not that simple, as Alan (July 3) rightly points out.

  • erich says:

    I do wish people would desist from calling the wretched man Boris. Not only is his name actually Alexander, but it’s the damn Boris that the idiots who voted for him remember. If he’d been called Stan or Sid he might not have got in and we would have been spared the chaos he and his appalling crew have caused.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Was it Tony has been Blair who invented the DCMS? I could never understand why when there were already four arts councils and a football federeation.

  • Christopher Sears says:

    If Boris really cares as you say , let him cut through this administrative mess you describe.

  • Dr Presume says:

    Perhaps Oliver Dowden (and Bojo, and Cummings et al) need to be reminded of what Winston Churchill said about the arts. No, not the apocryphal “what are we fighting for” thing, but the verifiable comment he made in a speech at the Royal Academy in 1938:

    “The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them.”

    • Peter San Diego says:

      Did Churchill maintain arts funding during WWII? This is a real, not rhetorical, question. If he did, it would mean a great deal and starkly represent the contrast between the Tories of 80 years ago and those of today. Or it would represent the decline in the generally perceived importance of the arts, alas.

  • Dave says:

    The problem is that the UK has a Culture Secretary. When the government is allowed to set the tone you have a disaster waiting to happen.

  • Stephen Birkin says:

    There’s something all lovers of the Arts can do: choose your favourite organisation(s), put your hands in your pockets and donate. There are plenty of us out there and while we can’t solve the problems on our own, we can at least show how much we really care. Put another way, don’t just slate the government – do something positive!

  • operacentric says:

    The arts industry generates £13m per minute and three times what it receives in contribution to the economy. For every £1 spent at the theatre, £3 was spent on food, drink, accommodation and travel in the local area (with significantly more being spent in the West End).

    Discount any notion of patronage/elitism for the moment – it is sound economic sense to invest in culture.

    Yesterday 400 people were made redundant at the National Theatre and the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton closed permanently, having recently opened a new £30m+ building in the City Centre.

    • christopher storey says:

      £13million per minute would be 6,800 BILLION pounds per year , or about 136,000 for every singel member of the population. You need to check your decimal points

  • Wesley says:

    There’s an op-ed piece in The Sunday Times today by its theatre critic which confirms what I’ve been saying on here for weeks: in short, it’s pointless for luvvies to write letters to newspapers complaining about their lot. For the following reasons: (1) other industries are far more organised and are banging on the doors of No.10, while arty types are busy writing letters to The Guardian; (2) prominent arty types seem far more concerned about pursuing Twitter vendettas against people like JK Rowling than doing anything about the current COVID-19 situation; (3) the most vocal arty types are largely prominent left-wing Remoaners who, for obvious reasons, won’t have endeared themselves to a Tory government; (4) any government is going to prioritise things like air travel, pubs, football shops etc over “middle class” pursuits like classical music and theatre (and if you think a Labour government would behave otherwise then I congratulate you on your birthday yesterday).