Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Nose, face, cut

The financial meltdown that followed global banking speculation has only just begun to impact on all our lives; that's correct – I wrote 'only just begun'. We haven't seen anything yet.

 Newcastle City Council faced with a massive cut in its annual budget have decided in its turn to cut all arts funding in a sweeping decision that will impact on every supported organisation in the North East from high profile venues to one person bands. Nobody escapes.

The following letter appeared in the "Newcastle Journal" last week. Written by a respected consultant, Bruce Reed, it sets out the well understood economic argument that spending on the arts benefits the wider economy. Well understood by anyone who has been paying attention that is.

 The letter*:

 "Last night an American friend in Vermont, USA, e-mailed me to say that her local paper was featuring a piece about two concerts of all-British music in which she was playing this weekend.

Next year she and her husband are coming to London, then the North East, to see, hear, and experience our culture.

 This morning I read in the Journal that Newcastle City Council are to axe spending on 10 cultural organisations in the city.

 When our company produced its report, two decades ago, on the economic importance of the arts in Tyne & Wear it kickstarted investment in the arts in the area - including the Arena, Sage and Baltic. The report had been entirely funded by the private sector (Sir John Hall, Tyne Tees TV and others) to help calculate which kinds of arts had what kinds of impacts on the economy, and their overall value.

From our surveys of users at arts venues, and interviews with businesses, arts organisations, and other research, we identified several different kinds of impacts including:

  • they often spent very little in the cinemas, art galleries and museums, but their indirect expenditures in shops during the day, and on meals, drinks, local travel and accommodation was almost £40 a day per person in 1990 prices (we found 'culture-driven' tourists spent more than the average)
  • executives in big organisations, and leaders in influential local and national jobs said that the quality of what was on offer from the arts (the reason for building the Sage, and supporting local theatre companies), the choice of different art forms for all the family (the economic rationale for investments in Seven Stories, the Arena, and Dance City), the liveliness of discussions about arts and our cultural heritage (which the Baltic, Laing Art Gallery and Discovery Museum, all stimulate) was what make it worthwhile for them to move to - and stay in - the North East.

The overwhelming conclusion from the study was that the range of direct and indirect economic impacts on local employment and spending induced by the arts dwarfed the costs of council spending on them.

 Our culture is precious, and the evidence shows that consumers value it highly - but only if the choice and quality available makes it worth being here to experience it.

 In the years to come, we hope that the culture on offer to our American friends and other visitors is sufficient to make them think it is worth coming North from London - and then coming back for more of it.

 Yours sincerely,

 Bruce S. Reed"

 This is the big business basis for arts spending founded on solid research into verified facts. The arts repay their grants and financial support. Quite apart from tourism, the arts provision of a city or region was long ago recognised as being of significance for inward investment; companies like high quality art provision and amenities that flow from them.

 This is what puzzled me about the dismissive reaction of sometime head of government agency One North East (defunct), Jonathan Blackie when I asked if his organisation accepted the role of arts in city regeneration. Surely, the case was made? Apparently not as far as he was concerned. Now it looks as though all that historic investment in excellence and diversity (not least by artists') is the latest in a growing line of victims of the credit fuelled retail culture One North East were so eager to encourage in its stead.

* This letter appears by kind permission of the author.

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