Thursday, 23 September 2010

Here Comes The Tsunami

It has been a bit of a wait but the inevitable is now reaching the cultured cove. When the credit crunch was fresh news, almost two years ago now, many in the arts held their breath; the 'entertainment' industry would surely bear the brunt of the suffering.

Strangely, little seemed to happen. In London, the theatres enjoyed the Indian summer of a long golden period that had, arguably, begun with Hare-Schnitzler's The Blue Room back in 1998. The British went from interlopers to institution at the Oscars and the London Film Festival suddenly matured to the next rank of international festivals alongside Venice, Berlin, Sundance, Toronto and Cannes. Dance has been burgeoning for a while but exploded nationwide through the success of troupes on popular TV shows (X Factor, Britain's Got Talent) and their spin-offs; whilst in art, the Young British Artists, (now not so young) have become the craggy tent poles of a British big top of international art creation and dealing.

Yet the obvious parallel between the London circus of artistic production & marketing and the Square Mile of financial (mis-)management looks like it's finally about to consume its own metaphor. Two days ago the abolition of the UK Film Council was announced to a broad, unequivocal intake of breath. This is, of course, the first sizeable action taken by the new deficit-combating government to reduce outgoings to a skeletal minimum. But I couldn't help notice that this has been followed today by a significant aftershock of comment in the bellweather pages of The Guardian where there are no less than four pieces on the subject: Lee Hall on theatre, Tom Service on retailers, Penny Anderson on BBC arts editor Will Gompertz, and a leading article from Polly Toynbee. Indeed The Guardian's Arts Funding corner of its Culture pages looks set to become a cottage industry of comment and reference.

(UPDATE: sorry, forgot this one - but then one is always sceptical of actors making political statements, however senior they are)

This is no coincidence but the recognition that despite good, steadily accumulated investment in the arts, profligacy in other areas of British life will inevitably impact upon it. The sanguine will note that this is a good analogy for the oft-repeated advocacy for the arts; that the impact of the entertainment industry is felt far beyond the aisles of an auditorium or the walls of a gallery, unquantifiable though that is. Well, that quantifiability will now be seen clear as day, in a merciless reverse, as a spray of statistics - like 50%, for example - coming off the spume of a tidal wave that begins to flatten the good work of a decade's application in, arguably, Britain's most successful exporting sector.

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