Dear leadership candidate
Questions for our prospective Prime Minister
We understand that you are standing as a potential leader of the Conservative Party. We appreciate that you will be extremely busy in the coming days and weeks but given the significance of the arts sector in terms of our economy, its effectiveness as a soft power and as a facilitator of cultural exchange, it is important that the creative industries continue to flourish post Brexit. We would be delighted therefore if you could take the time to answer a few questions.
A bit about Artists for Brexit
Since its inception in early 2018 Artists for Brexit has grown in membership and profile. This is in part due to continuing media interest in the association and increasing support on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, but also through the establishment of a vibrant website and its various successful public events. While it is very much a grassroots movement and is run entirely by volunteers, its lead, Michael Lightfoot and other members of Artists for Brexit have appeared on television and radio programmes and have had a number of articles published on the issue of our leaving the European Union. Our website displays not only the superb work of some of our members but also hosts a blog featuring interviews, reviews and articles.
There is probably little doubt that a majority of those in the arts voted to stay in the EU. That said, there are a significant number of artists who did vote for Brexit, many of whom have felt unable to admit this publicly for fear of adverse reaction; not only from a professional but also from a social perspective. We at Artists for Brexit felt this was an intolerable position in which people could find themselves in a modern democratic society and so we felt compelled to found the collective as a symbol of solidarity.
Artists for Brexit is open to anyone to join, whether they voted to leave or remain, provided they respect the result of the referendum and wish to see the UK prosper post Brexit. We have remain supporting artists interact with us via our social media accounts regularly and it is important to take their concerns into consideration too. So it is with this in mind that we have taken on board some of the issues raised and ask that you kindly consider responding to these questions.
1. A concern raised by artists is what will happen to freedom of movement once we leave the EU. We are certain that both the U.K. and the EU will come to an agreement that does not significantly impact mobility across Europe because it would be in no party’s interest to do so. However, we sympathise with concerns about ease of movement for artists around Europe - it is the uncertainty as much as anything that is causing worry. What would you say to reassure artists who will need to travel and work in Europe post Brexit?
2. Artists from the rest of the world do not have the right to move freely around Europe in the same way as those within the EU. Do you consider that this is fair? Do you think that the entire process for artists, whether within the EU or outside it should be reconsidered, so that there is a fairer system? For example, what are your views on the current visa criteria and process for non-EU citizens?
3. There are concerns that post Brexit our reputation as global leaders in the arts will be compromised. The view of Artists for Brexit is that we will continue to host international artists, continue our cultural collaboration with artists in Europe and will remain at the forefront of the arts post Brexit. In terms of “reputational damage”, we reject this proposition entirely. Do we consider that American, Brazilian or Vietnamese artists have a lesser reputation because they are not part of the EU trading bloc? What are your thoughts?
4. While we want to continue with and nurture our relationships with artists in Europe post Brexit there is an argument that we have become a little complacent, insular and inward looking under the umbrella of the EU. There is a broader, global arts network with potential creative partnerships that may have been overlooked because we have this artificial framework on our doorstep through which artists tend to operate. We think Brexit has the potential to reinvigorate us as artists, to reach beyond our current cosy arrangements and reset the political and cultural climate. What would your response be to this? How can we ensure that Brexit provides us with an opportunity to enhance our relationships with the rest of the creative world?
5. Concerns have been raised by many artists about funding once we leave the EU. A pre-referendum Arts Council survey recorded concern about leaving the EU with over 70% of the artists asked. In particular there is, quite rightly in our view, a concern that post Brexit, funds that would notionally return to us for allocation within the arts will suddenly “disappear”, or be allocated elsewhere. The Arts Council survey also noted that applications from the UK for EU ‘funding’ were in the region of only 9% of those polled and when the strict criteria for and aims of this funding are scrutinised, it is unclear whether the ‘funding’ from the EU is actually reflective of the needs of most jobbing artists or indeed arts audiences. In actual fact, most arts funding comes from the Arts Council via the Treasury and from the National Lottery. We think that post Brexit arts funding could be better and more fairly allocated across the regions without EU “strings” attached. Moreover, we believe that the challenges involved in making changes to such funding structures, whilst certainly complex, also provide an opportunity to fundamentally reassess how such funding is spent. What would you do to ensure that the arts sector remains properly and appropriately funded?
6. We would like to see the government and appropriate government agencies commit to existing projects that would have been ‘funded’ by the EU and to also reassure the arts community that their needs are taken seriously. We hope this would help to build the necessary support for Brexit within the creative industry. How would you ensure that current commitments are honoured?
7.To us, Brexit provides the UK with the chance to build on existing creative programmes and do more with those who perhaps do not currently feel they have a voice in the arts industry. Managing our entire cultural budget means we could identify more quickly the areas where investment is needed. We could simplify the arts funding application process and direct funding more appropriately, focusing on improving the connection between the arts and all regions, classes and demographics in the UK. We don’t want to just accept the status quo; we see Brexit as an opportunity to improve things. What are your thoughts?
8. There is a clear consensus that the arts are widely seen as out of touch with a large part of the population. Darren Henley, Chief Executive of the Arts Council wrote in 2016 following the referendum result, “We need to lead a national conversation and we should redouble our efforts to ensure that more people can experience the best of our nation’s creativity. We know there are many places where people still don’t enjoy the benefits that art and culture bring – places where communities feel marginalized culturally. In the coming years, Britain will need to use all its talents, so art and culture must reflect the interests of everyone, not just a privileged few.” Similarly, Rufus Norris, the National Theatre’s artistic director said, also in 2016, “...this has been a huge wake up call for all of us to realise that half the country feels that they have no voice. If we are going to be a national organisation we must speak to and for the nation.” What would you do to ensure that the arts is not only more accessible to everyone here, but that it is reflective of a diversity of class, views and opinions.
9. The UK actually dominates 60% of the EU arts market, so we feel that it will thrive post Brexit. However, current EU regulations and taxes can add significant cost and burden to the market, which can be a disincentive to investment. What market opportunities do you feel we should seize once we leave the EU and are able to undertake regulatory review and change?
10. The period since the 2016 referendum has seen an extraordinary level of divisiveness, vitriol and polarisation. It seems to have torn the very fabric of society in two - not just in the arts, but much of the country. We have to a degree become estranged from each other. What will you do to normalise the pro Brexit position, both from an artists’ perspective but also in terms of the wider community so that the desire to leave the European Union is accepted as a reasonable position to take? How do you intend to heal the rift between both sides of the debate? How do we reconcile our differences and move on?
We thank you for taking the time to read and consider our letter.
Artists for Brexit