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The Arts: A Vital Component In Article 50 Negotiations, Here's Why

28/03/2017 13:39

With the triggering of Article 50 all sectors of our economy will be clamouring to have their voices heard.

Some of these early cries have been loud and clear. Rows over student visas, for example, and the impact that the UK leaving the European Union will have on domestic higher education. We've also heard from big business, finance and industry of the danger to banking and supply chains.

The voices of the arts and culture sector are inevitably softer in this company. These fields do not lend themselves easily to measurement. It is very difficult to speak out in support armed with the facts and figures typically demanded when talking about our national priorities.

This lack of statistical ammunition could be why arts and culture have been so far conspicuous by their absence: from the Prime Minister's Lancaster House speech on Brexit in January, to the subsequent government White Paper on leaving the European Union. This despite the sector's particular vulnerabilities to Brexit: the support that it receives from European funding and its reliance on freedom of movement to propagate ideas and encourage cross-border collaboration.

When labelled as the 'creative industries', arts and culture can creep in under the radar, warranting a mention in the UK's industrial strategy for 'Global Britain'. But even this seemed almost a footnote for what is in fact the fastest growing sector of the UK economy - with figures released in January indicating that the creative industries are now worth a record £84.1 billion.

Leading the growth of this sector since 2011 have been music, performing and visual arts which have grown faster than IT, software and computer services.

The British Council believes arts and culture rightly belong in the creative industries and the knowledge economy.

Our EU-UK Culture and Education Series began in Berlin in February, with a two-day conference for leading voices in these industries from across Europe: the fields of arts and culture, education and skills and science and research.

The aim of the series is to help to set out the future structures for cross-border cooperation in these fields once the UK leaves the EU and advise negotiators on both sides of the best way forwards for these naturally collaborative fields.

It will raise the understanding of the impact of Brexit collectively across these sectors and discuss how the loss on both sides can be at least mitigated or, at best, avoided.

The series, which will include two further summits - in Madrid in April and London in June - is a time for listening to the other 27 nations of the European Union: an opportunity to hear their side of the story. Already, our own surveys and those of other expert institutions have noted that freedom of movement and funding guarantees are top of the list of concerns.
Behind these two principal points lie a list of knock-on effects and other considerations, like intellectual property rights, that have been taken for granted for decades but are now considered potential bargaining chips.

Brexit has been highly divisive within our own country and, now Article 50 is nearing trigger point, it remains to be seen how it will play across Europe.
As we enter official negotiations, it becomes more important for us to maintain relations with our EU partners in a very different, less contentious arena than traditional politics. This happily brings the arts to the forefront.

The British Council has long propagated culture as being a way to forge, maintain and strengthen connections across national borders, be it in partnerships with institutions, museums, universities and schools or fundamental people-to-people connections.

Here arts reveal a particular and peculiar power that exists quite separately to economics, a power that we believe should be harnessed by the UK government and placed at the heart of future relations with Europe.

Our arts and culture, our language, learning and society are not just valuable because they contribute to the economy, they are valuable in and of themselves.

They can be shared between people and countries, act as sources of inspiration or provocation and the basis of a different form of dialogue - all the more important if Britain wants to maintain friendships while leaving the EU.

The arts will join education and science to discuss new partnerships and collaboration, but it is the arts that can act as a form of dialogue in themselves - a power that negotiators and governments would do well to remember and support in the years ahead.

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