The US and Germany fund galleries outside their capital. Why do we think only of London?

We must convince funders that there is life - and art - outside the capital

Share

Britain is one of the most centralised countries on earth. In far too many areas, life begins and ends in the capital. I say that as a Londoner proud of the city, but not of its dominance on political and economic life.

In one area, the hegemony has been gradually loosened. In the arts, thanks to sustained and sensible funding, galleries, theatres and music venues have given a new lease of life to cities and towns from Newcastle to Bristol, from Wakefield to my adopted Margate.

Now that’s being threatened by what Nick Hytner, the Director of the National Theatre, calls the “double whammy”. Not only was central government money cut for some institutions in the last Arts Council funding round, but now a number of local authorities are severing the link as well.

Newcastle City Council is the latest, planning to cut all funding to arts organisations in the city, including the Theatre Royal, Northern Stage and Live Theatre. It is following a pattern set by Somerset County Council to axe its entire arts budget. Other cities, districts and counties are thinking of following suit. Almost all local authorities have had to make savings of some sort in their grants to the sector.

At first glance, the move is understandable. Councils are shedding services across the board in a desperate bid to stay within extremely tight budgets. Amid cuts in social programmes, such as children and youth services, what is so sacrosanct about artistic institutions?

Few would argue that present levels of funding could realistically have been sustained. Nor do I share the conventional wisdom among many in the arts establishment that cultural organisations are automatically entitled to state subsidy.

Renaissance

A mix of public and private is the healthy solution; any arts organisation unable to entice donations from individuals or corporations, wherever they’re based, no matter how challenging the circumstances, and in some way to make money from some of their activities (through special shows or private hiring of spaces) should ask themselves whether they are being properly run.

What is particularly frustrating, however, is the notion that the best the UK can offer inevitably resides in the capital. For sure, the blue riband institutions such as the Tate, National Gallery, National Theatre and Royal Opera House attract the most attention, but Britain is in the midst of a cultural renaissance outside London. The task is to convince big funders – public and private – of the merits of the case. I cannot speak for drama or other genres, but the visual arts are booming. From the Baltic in Gateshead, to the Ikon in Birmingham, from Modern Art Oxford to the Hepworth in Wakefield, curators and directors are responsible for some of the strongest exhibitions anywhere in the country. The Tate blazed a trail two decades ago with its smaller galleries in Liverpool and St Ives.

The best galleries are not “regional”. They are national institutions that happen to be based outside the metropolis. In other countries, that would not be considered an oxymoron. The US and Germany have long embraced and promoted culture outside the capital.

The experience of Turner Contemporary in Margate, which I chair, has been extraordinary; but it is not unique. Kent County Council, working with the Arts Council, took an enormous political and economic gamble in commissioning the design of a new gallery on the sea front of a town that had lost its confidence. Margate ranked towards the bottom of several demographic league tables – from high street vacancies to public health to employment and education – and that was during a time of national plenty.

Against a vocal minority of resistance, the gallery opened its doors in April 2011, quickly establishing itself on the national scene. In its first year, it received just short of half a million visitors, making it one of the country’s most popular visual arts institutions.

Myopic

The gamble paid off, handsomely. Yet the temptation would have been, as the going got tougher, to slash funding. In the end, the council was prevailed upon to restrict cuts to below 10 per cent. The arguments we deployed were not sentimental. We demonstrated that, as with the best examples elsewhere in the country, the gallery has served as a catalyst for economic renewal.

Council money is not largesse but hard-headed investment in the cultural industries which will be at the heart of economic growth. This message was sent loud and clear at a conference last week held at the National Theatre in London, where leaders of 22 English regional theatres described the transformational effect of thriving performing arts. Fresh from his triumphant Olympic opening ceremony, Danny Boyle argued that theatres provided “something else to believe in; something in our cities and towns that isn’t Wetherspoon and Walkabout pubs and Mario Balotelli and John Terry”.

As Hytner pointed out, arts funding comprises 0.1 per cent of total public expenditure. The Government is right to expect high levels of professionalism. There is nothing ignoble about private funding. But there is everything myopic and self-defeating about failing to support one area of public life that invariably delivers the goods – for visitors and for broader communities.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing