She wants to save British arts (if she’s elected)


For the past 14 years, Britain’s Conservative-led governments have said they want to maintain the country’s status as a cultural powerhouse, develop new talent and keep the home of the Beatles and Harry Potter in the global spotlight.

Their actions are inconsistent with these statements.

Successive governments have cut subsidies for theatres, museums and opera houses. The number of children studying art, music and drama has dropped significantly. New post-Brexit border rules mean it will be difficult for musicians to tour abroad.

Today, no one is talking about Cool Britannia. Instead, the art world is rumored to be in crisis.

For many artists and cultural managers, however, there is hope that change is coming but fear that it will not go far enough.

After the July 4 election, pollsters expect the left-leaning Labor Party to form a new government. If that happens, the UK will not only have a new prime minister in Keir Starmer – a childhood flutist who often professes his love for indie music – but there might also be a new culture minister who Learn about the challenges faced by British artists because she herself is one.

Thangam Debbonaire, 57, a former professional cellist who danced at rave parties in college and has verses of poetry tattooed on her forearms, is responsible for formulating Labour’s campaign promises on the arts. These include increasing art, drama and music classes in schools and cracking down on ticket scalping.

Arts professionals welcomed the proposals. But while past Labor governments have increased state subsidies for cultural institutions, de Bonnell said the dire state of the UK economy meant this was not currently an option. Instead, she hopes to encourage private funding to fill the budget gap—a plan that many in the arts community say is unlikely to reverse the losses of the past 14 years.

While Labor’s victory looks almost certain, Debonnell’s own position is less certain. Polls show the Green Party leading in the congressional district where she is running. If voters oust her, there’s a chance someone else will have to implement her vision.

De Bonnell said in a recent interview at her campaign office in the western English city of Bristol that she believed she could win. She will then begin looking for funding that arts organizations say they desperately need, possibly from banks and philanthropists. Under Labour’s plan, the government could provide small grants to help encourage private investment.

Debonnell declined to give further details, saying they would be worked out with civil servants once Labor takes power. But she insisted the promise of extra funding for the arts was “more than a wish”.

“There are potential sources of funding there,” Debonel said. “I’m going to find it somewhere.”

Unlike the United States, nearly all opera houses, major theaters, and museums in the United Kingdom rely on state funding. Government subsidies here can cover more than a third of an organization’s operating costs. Many agencies are struggling to cope as central government and local councils experience budget cuts, followed by cuts to their own budgets by the Conservative government. Some smaller organizations have closed, and larger companies have cut back on performance.

Labor administrations have historically been more generous in spending in this area. In 1946, Clement Attlee’s government created the Arts Council, an independent organization that still operates today, providing state subsidies to cultural institutions. In the 1960s, Harold Wilson’s government almost tripled arts funding and expanded it to popular art forms such as jazz. Under Tony Blair, Labor legislated free admission to Britain’s major museums, whose annual budgets were increased to make up for the shortfall in ticket sales.

Debonelle’s own background is less glamorous – although she has been immersed in art since childhood. Her father was a pianist who moved to London from India as a teenager to study piano and organ at the Royal College of Music. There he met Debonelle’s mother, a classmate who later became a music teacher.

Debonelle studied cello and studied the instrument at another school in London, the Royal College of Music. She later began playing professionally, including with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, but stopped playing in her early 40s, partly to focus on working for anti-domestic violence organizations, she said, although she still practiced regularly and ” The fingertips are hard and swollen”. thumb” to prove this. (She continues to play in a string quartet.)

Debonelle said improving conditions for freelance artists would be her top priority. Labour’s policy also includes striking a deal with the EU so performers can more easily work abroad.

Other Labor proposals are aimed at the culture-loving public rather than professional artists. With ticket prices for concerts and theater soaring, Debonnell said Labor would cap resale prices to stop scalpers making huge profits. To give more people the chance to see art, she said she would “urge” major museums to take collections out of storage and send them to venues across the country.

“It is an important principle for me that art serves everyone, everywhere,” Debonelle said.

However, on some high-profile areas of UK cultural policy, de Bonnell said her party had no plans to change course. Asked whether a Labor government would change the law so museums could return controversial artefacts, such as the British Museum’s Parthenon Marbles, to their countries of origin, she avoided a direct answer. Museums should “collaborate with partners in different countries” by loaning items to each other, she said.

“The priority right now is ensuring our museum sector survives and thrives,” she said.

In recent interviews, more than a dozen senior British cultural managers and artists said the change in government would bring about a change in sentiment in the industry. Frances Morris, the former director of Tate Modern, said the Conservative government had left British cultural workers feeling “vilified, impoverished and besieged”. She added that Labour’s victory “feels like a turning point”.

Others say Labour’s plans to use private money to turn around the industry are unrealistic. Theater director Dominic Cooke, formerly of the National Theater and Royal Court Theatre, said British institutions had been trying for years to squeeze more money from the private sector. Arts organizations, he says, have devoted more and more resources to raising donations and striking sponsorship deals — and there’s not much they can do.

But a return to the generosity of the previous Labor government seems unlikely in the short term. The party’s election manifesto pledged to abide by the current government’s spending rules, with Starmer ruling out tax increases “on working people”. Labour’s spending focuses on health, education and border security. Art barely figured prominently in his campaign.

Sitting in her office in Bristol, de Bonnell said she realized Labour’s plans would not satisfy artists who want immediate funding for cultural institutions. “It’s not easy to say to the art world, ‘I can’t give you all the cash you want,’” she said.

But she firmly believes Labour’s economic policies will ultimately boost the UK economy and generate more tax revenue.

“I will fight for art,” Debonelle said. “I believe them.” De Bonnell then left the office and headed to Bristol for an afternoon and evening of campaigning. After all, if she loses to the Greens, she won’t be able to fight for the arts.





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