What now for culture?

Arts and minds: Damon Albarn is one of the many artists who have spoken out against Brexit.

The referendum result has shaken the creative industries. Brexit poses them all kinds of logistical problems. Can they survive? Indeed, will artists emerge more passionate than ever?

  • How have Britain’s cultural figures reacted to Brexit?

    On the whole, not well. ‘Democracy has failed us,’ singer Damon Albarn declared to a Glastonbury crowd. ‘This is likely to be devastating for us,’ lamented Michael Ryan, the head of the Independent Film & Television Alliance. ‘Art reflects our national consciousness,’ said sculptor Anish Kapoor, ‘but now we’ve dug a big hole and buried it for ever.’ No surprise: a poll of members of the Creative Industries Federation showed that 96% were against Brexit.

  • Why are these people so pro-EU?

    You could argue that creative types are, by nature, open to the world, and that an international project like the EU appeals to them. More to the point, there are reasons to believe that Brexit will hit their industries hard.

  • Such as?

    Firstly, funding. The EU contributes vast sums of money to Britain’s cultural sector. To take one example: between 2007 and 2015, it pumped around €130m into the country’s film, television and gaming industries. Some worry that the shortfall in funds could be compounded by a Brexit-led recession, which might cause the British government to trim cultural subsidies further.

  • Secondly?

    Free movement of people. Europeans are very active on Britain’s arts scene. They staff orchestras, museums, dance troupes. Less visibly, they influence and enrich British culture. If Brexit curbs their rights to live and work in the country, many fear that the arts will permanently lose out. After all, artists tend to have unstable jobs and low salaries, which hardly make them ideal candidates in a points-based immigration system.

    Likewise, British bands and performing arts companies may have a harder time touring around Europe – a vital source of income.

  • Anything else?

    The single market. Cultural products, like any other goods, are traded across the EU without tariffs, quotas or other obstacles. Without access to the market, and the common ground of EU regulations, Britain will find it harder to export films, set up co-productions, send blockbuster exhibitions abroad. Many organisations in these industries already operate on fine margins; the extra costs brought on by Brexit could finish some off.

  • But this is all speculation.

    Of course. The Brexit debate is short on concrete details. The fate of the cultural sector depends in large part on whether Britain retains access to the single market, and with it free movement.

  • Is it all doom and gloom?

    Not necessarily. The EU is not all roses for the arts. Just look at its proposed Digital Single Market strategy, which film producers argue would deal a huge blow to independent cinema and TV productions (see Become An Expert). In some ways, the creative industries could become more competitive in a post-Brexit Britain. Again, much of this will come down to the terms of the country’s settlement with the EU.

  • What does the government say?

    On Tuesday, culture minister Ed Vaizey sought to reassure the creative industries. ‘It’s vitally important that the arts are given a voice in Brexit Britain,’ he said, promising to call on the Conservative leadership candidates to ensure this.

  • So much for logistical issues. What about the art itself?

    Good question. Culture is ingrained in all societies, rich and poor; it is not something that disappears with a change in political regime. In fact, as many have observed since last week, artists thrive on social upheaval. In the turbulent times to come, many will turn to them for guidance and inspiration. To quote theatre director Barrie Rutter, Brexit ‘will only increase dynamism and creativity’.

You Decide

  1. Will Brexit permanently change British culture?


  1. Express your views on Brexit in a piece of art. It can be a story, a poem, a drawing, a song – anything.

Word Watch

Creative Industries Federation
An organisation which represents Britain’s arts and creative industries. It lobbies the government and private bodies for funding and policy change.
Some experts believe the economic shock of Brexit could cause a recession. Many agree it will harm growth for a while, whereas others see benefits.
The Guildhall Symphony Orchestra has 109 members, 42 of whom are from the EU. To highlight this, it has published two photos on its website: one of the full orchestra, and one without the EU citizens. See Become An Expert.
Instead of free movement for EU nationals, some Leavers advocate a system whereby would-be immigrants are tested on certain assets: skills, age, wealth etc. Those who score highly get a visa. Britain already uses this system for non-EU immigrants.
Some ways
Some analysts predict the weaker pound, and the potential for new tax breaks (and other kinds of deregulation), could attract significant investment from abroad. ‘International funds will be queuing to get in,’ said one Hollywood producer in The Guardian.

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