Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Across the Pond: Lost Arts in the UK

London Protest 2010
Protest to Education Cuts in the UK, 2010. CC image courtesy of Selena Sheridan on Flickr.

Arts advocates in the US of A may be used to hearing stories of strong government support for the arts abroad and wondering why we don’t have that kind of support—especially as Kansas loses their arts commission and the National Endowment for the Arts continues to be politically contentious despite the miniscule amount of federal funding it receives. But the arts are suffering abroad as well, as economies shrink and everyone is looking for places to scrimp. In the UK, Mark Brown, The Guardian’s arts columnist, is recording the effects of arts cuts in his Culture Cuts blog. The blog chronicles the impact of cuts to the Arts Council (the UK's version of the NEA) as well as the effects of regional and local arts cuts. It’s interesting to see the many parallels that are playing out across the pond as organizations struggle with funding cuts from all sides.

Tallying the True Cost of Arts Cuts
     One Culture Cuts post really struck my fancy; it’s about the website Lost Arts, which is tallying the “true cost” of public sector arts cuts in the UK. Lost Arts tracks not only money lost to the arts and cultural sector (over £20 million at the moment) but also the amount the UK economy has lost due to arts cuts (approaching £41 million as this post is published). The site also keeps track of specific programs and organizations that have lost out or folded due to lack of funding. (Sounds disturbingly familiar, huh?)
     “We are not saying that the Arts are more important than other sectors. We just want to make sure that the effects of these cuts are properly recorded and publicised,” according to the “Who We Are” section of the website. “Our aim is to show what we could be losing forever, on a day by day basis.” The site, which is run by a group of eight unions directly affected by arts cuts, also accepts submissions from organizations or individuals to be added to the database.

Lost Arts - US Edition?
     I think the Lost Arts concept is simple and brilliant, and one that could certainly be adapted in the US. Some who feel that arts cuts are a necessary evil might mistakenly equate arts funding with museums, operas and ballets. While these organizations suffer in the face of shrinking funds, it’s the community organizations and grassroots programs working in communities that are often most vulnerable. As a Google Alert junkie I receive word of these cuts every day in the form of articles from small town newspapers lamenting the impact of arts cuts on their community, often in the form of lost art education programs both inside schools and out. If all these dozens--nay, hundreds--of stories were agglomerated we might just have a very powerful advocacy tool demonstrating the true cost of arts cuts this side of the pond. Or, one could start a little smaller with a local or statewide version of Lost Arts. (Are you listening, Kansas?)

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