Arts Council England announced its funding plans at the beginning of this month and there have been spending cuts galore - but almost exclusively for groups outside London. Going to exhibitions, dances and plays have never been particularly cheap activities, but as less funding is given to the arts, these activities become more and more inaccessible - and local venues will be hit the hardest.
It was announced that the Arts Council would be supporting 670 organisations and 21 museums over a three year period from 2015 to 2018, sharing a grant of £340 million a year. Which is brilliant - but it's almost as if the Council forgot that arts venues outside London existed. Indeed, there was only a 2% shift toward regional arts organisations and of the 58 organisations to lose funding, 43 of those were based outside the capital. And this London-centric arts funding can only mean one thing: the smaller, regional organisations will suffer.
Art in London is expensive at the best of times. Of course, the Tate, the National Portrait Gallery and the Whitechapel Gallery are free to enter and full of free galleries, but the changing exhibitions are pricey (£18 for an adult ticket to see Matisse at the Tate, anyone?). Yet the majority of arts organisations in London continue to receive government funding - and a large proportion of cuts are impacting smaller organisations instead. This not only has a detrimental effect on the local arts landscape of towns outside London, but lack of funding means money will have to be found elsewhere - and this usually results in increased ticket prices, or large debt and organisation closure.
Sir Peter Bazalgette, the chairman of the Arts Council, said that the funding plans will be a 'major boost to England's culture and creativity'. Yet it is hard to see how when the majority of funding is centred in one location. Unevenly distributed funding means arts attractions in small towns suffer, while London continues to be the most popular tourist destination in Britain, with tourists spending over £11 million on attractions. Indeed, many regional organisations (arguably the groups needing the most financial support) had their applications rejected by the Arts Council, including Dorchester Arts, the Theatre Royal in Suffolk and Red Ladder in Leeds.
Local arts organisations not only act as economic and cultural assets to small towns, but they are also crucial in creating a community - and this is what the lack of funding threatens to destroy. The social and psychological benefits of arts involvement for young people and students have long been noted: it improves mental health, combats depression and connects young people to their community. To deny these local groups funding is to threaten the impact of their work by cutting off funding and damaging the level of service they are equipped to provide. Belinda Kidd, the chief executive of the Bath Festivals (an organisation whose application was rejected by the Arts Council), said that the lack of funding would mean that it will be 'harder to plan ahead and take artistic risks' - and countless other organisations are faced with the same dilemmas: cutting staff, cancelling events, relying on donations, struggling with debt and ultimately failing to provide the service they were able to with the help of the Arts Council.
The consequences of this may be severe: unless financial support can be found through other schemes, organisations will be forced to rely on volunteers and donations - or increase ticket prices for their events to compensate. Potentially resulting in less support as local arts inevitably become expensive, the venue may be faced with accumulating mass debt or closure. The Arts Council should focus on creating an even geographical spread of funding, focusing on providing all areas of Britain with diverse and sufficiently supported arts organisations. And, as Lyn Gardner comments, there are nine months until the next election and we need to ensure that 'the arts are on the political agenda for every single one of the UK's 650 MPs and for the millions who will cast a vote'.
Arts funding is essential in keeping art accessible and affordable for everyone. It is essential in providing young people safe spaces in their communities. It is essential in providing economic and cultural assets to towns. It is essential in ensuring our cultural climate is diverse, fresh and exciting. Art should not be dull or inaccessible and enjoying art should not be expensive - and without sufficient funding, it will inevitably become these things. The next Arts Council investment must aim for an even geographical spread to wholly commit to their 'great art and culture for everyone' mission statement - not just for those in London.