To the barricades

As the art and design world braces itself for the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review next month, Angus Montgomery reports on some recently launched campaigns that are fighting back against funding cuts in the sector

The cuts are coming. Chancellor George Osborne is currently scrutinising public-sector spending figures as he prepares to wield the axe across the board in the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review on 20 October. While industrial unions can gather the support of their members and bring pressure to bear on Government with threats of co-ordinated industrial action, the arts world, which is facing deep cuts of its own, is relying on artists and designers to get the message about the cuts across to the public and protest to Government.

Upcoming cuts to the Arts Council England budget are rumoured to be in the region of 25-40 per cent, the UK Film Council is set to be axed and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is proposing a series of redundancies that could affect half the staff at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Plans for Government spending cuts in other sectors have met with a predictably strong response. At the Trade Unions Congress conference last week, the unions overwhelmingly supported a motion rejecting cuts to public services, and backed a plan of protest which would include a rally in Westminster on the eve of the CSR, a national demonstration in March and a co-ordinated campaign of industrial action.

Those in the arts world, with less opportunity to use industrial action as a tool of protest, have been using art and design to build awareness and lobby ministers. Earlier this month the Save the Arts campaign was launched. The campaign is organised by the London branch of the Turning Point Network, an organisation supported by Arts Council England, and backed by a who’s who of the leading lights of the Brit Art scene, such as the Chapman brothers, Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas and Steve McQueen. The Save the Arts initiative aims to encourage people to sign a petition opposing cuts to the arts, which will be sent to Culture Secretary Hunt.

The campaign states, ’It has taken 50 years to create a vibrant arts culture in Britain that is the envy of the world. [We appeal] to the Government not to slash arts funding and risk destroying this long-term achievement and the social and economic benefits to us all.’ It adds, ’The campaign acknowledges that reasonable cuts and efficiencies are necessary, but that the 25 per cent cuts being proposed will destroy much of what has been achieved and will have a particularly damaging impact on smaller-scale arts organisations, as well as on national and regional museums and their collections.’

Save the Arts aims to use the profile of the artists involved to gain recognition and drive potential signatories to the petition. It launched with a new work by Jeremy Deller, quoting William Morris’ statement ’I do not want art for a few any more than I want education for a few, or freedom for a few’ and a video by David Shrigley that aims to provide an explanation of the importance of the arts sector and the impact of potential cuts. A different artist will unveil a new piece of work for the campaign every week, in a bid to keep the profile high, with Mark Wallinger next up. All artists involved in the project have given their time for free, with Shrigley’s animation funded by a grant from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Running parallel to the Save the Arts campaign, but with a different focus, is the I Value the Arts initiative, which has been set up by independent campaigning body the National Campaign for the Arts. Unlike Save the Arts, which has developed through a network of professional artists, I Value the Arts aims to galvanise the general public and audience members. The campaign aims to capture postcodes and e-mail addresses of interested people, who can then be given support to campaign for arts initiatives in their areas, as well as on a national level.

Louise de Winter, director of the NCA, says, ’We have a potential public support network which we are trying to galvanise.’ She adds, ’It’s a completely Web-based campaign. We have no resources to spend, so we have to use social media tools, we are very reliant on word of mouth. In many ways, we think this makes the campaign stronger as it is at the grassroots.’

De Winter says 3000 people registered with the campaign in the first two days and that it was tweeted by Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, ’although we haven’t got him to carry a twibbon on his account’, says de Winter.

The branding work for the I Value the Arts campaign was developed by Cog Design, which worked on the project pro bono, startingat the beginning of August. Cog director Michael Smith says, ’We had to make the logo as simple as possible, but immediatein its appeal. It had to have one or two colours and work very small. The logo is a call to action.’

Smith adds, ’The campaign has to appeal to people like my mum, who would be upset if her local theatre closed, but mightnot make the connection with taxation and arts funding.’

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