A trustee of the Tate galleries warned this weekend that if cuts to the arts continue at their current pace, it is "likely" the Government will allow museums and arts spaces to start charging for entry in what he called a further "brutalising" of the culture sector.
As councils around the country lay out their budgets for the coming three years, most seeking to slash the money they spend on the arts, contemporary artist Bob and Roberta Smith – the professional name of Patrick Brill – vented his anger at the "irresponsible" attitude of council leaders, and lamented that he could foresee entry to museums and galleries being put out of the reach of many people by the reintroduction of admission charges. Labour abolished these for national collections in 2001, since when attendance figures have soared.
Brill believes the Tate is "100 per cent committed" to free entry. A spokeswoman confirmed: "Tate has no plans to change this." And while the trustee does not believe the Government could mandate charging, because many institutions are more "autonomous than they used to be", he is concerned.
"I think there would be a lot of pressure for organisations to make up their own minds about that. If [the Government] whip up public opinion against the arts in the way that they have done, then suddenly the tables change and I think it is quite likely that they will say that."
As for the leaders of councils across the UK, the artist believes that they are using the arts as a means of representing how tough they are being on budget reductions but are misrepresenting their constituents. "They're making this gesture which says elected people have no interest whatsoever in culture and that's really, really disgraceful. You can't say to an electorate, 'I'm only doing what I'm being told to do.' That is the kind of thing that book burners and people in the 1930s and Forties said."
Hundreds of venues, groups and projects are facing difficult times, as shown in our graphic, right. Last week, Moray Council in northern Scotland announced that it will completely withdraw funding for the arts, saving up to £94,000 a year over three years, while Newcastle City Council announced on Friday that rather than the 100 per cent cut in its £1.15m arts funding, as floated in November, there would be a £600,000 cultural fund from which organisations could bid for money. The concession came after the council was inundated with more than 50,000 responses to its budget consultation, many concerned with the arts cuts.
Tony Durcan, director of culture, libraries and lifelong learning at Newcastle City Council, says that the deal represents the best result, having listened to the consultation. The situation had been "bleak" and the council had "just run out of money".
Harriet Harman, shadow Culture Secretary, had intervened to prevent a 100 per cent cut. In a speech at a Labour arts policy event, she attacked the Conservative Party's approach to the arts, saying that if arts funding cuts were not fought, the "price will be paid in the future".
"Arts and culture take years to build up, but can easily be so quickly destroyed," she said.
Bob and Roberta Smith has seen a "tidal wave of tweets and articles" that has greeted some specific cuts, but he believes far more needs to be done. "The people in the arts world, and people who care about the arts, need to get their shit together, because there is a battle on."
National Museums of Scotland
National Museum of Costume
One of only five national museums in Scotland, the NMC was forced to close last month after being the home to glamorous gowns and colourful costumes from across the centuries for the past 30 years.
Entire arts budget
The Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre of Scotland will no longer tread the boards in Moray after a wholesale cut for the arts, saving up to £94,000 a year over three years.
Byre Theatre, St Andrews
Sean Connery has joined thousands of others in a last-ditch campaign to save this former cowshed-turned-theatre venue from permanent closure, after grant reductions contributed to it shutting its doors.
Newcastle City council
All Newcastle arts venues
The potential loss of up to 10 libraries over three years, alongside an arts budget cut of more than 50 per cent has left the council facing a public backlash.
Worcestershire County council
Kidderminster Library Gallery
The only custom-built gallery and performance space in the Kidderminster district will be moved into a smaller space, saving more than £200,000 a year, with offices taking its place.
Darlington Borough council
Darlington Arts Centre
Last year, hundreds of people gathered in Darlington to bid a fond farewell to the town's Art Centre which had served as the cultural hub of the area for the past 30 years.
Cardiff City council
There'll be no more firework finales at what was once the UK's largest free outdoor music festival after the council announced plans last month to scrap it.
Newport City council
Actor Michael Sheen is one of many dismayed over the loss of a temporary exhibition programme and a £150,000 cut to the council's events and arts budget.
Transport for London
London Transport Museum
Swingeing cuts of £1.5m by 2016, 25 per cent of the museum's grant from Transport for London, have led to fears that the much-loved institution has become unsustainable.
Suffolk Coastal District council
Felixstowe Spa Pavilion
A pantomime production of Aladdin in January was the last for this 100-year-old venue after the removal of a £250,000 subsidy from the district council.