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What will Brexit mean for arts and culture in the UK?

With decreased levels of funding and potential limits on free movement across Europe, what does Brexit mean for the arts in the UK? 

Tucked away in a corner of the Britain Stronger In campaign website, among a series of publications concerning what would happen to the UK’s global influence, the economy, defence, the NHS and immigration if we were to leave the EU, there is a list of names of well-known individuals in the creative industries – Benedict Cumberbatch, Carol Ann Duffy, Jarvis Cocker, Anish Kapoor and Keira Knightley, to name a few, all supporting a Remain vote (see our comprehensive list of celebrities who endorsed Remain and Leave here).

The Creative Industries Federation, a membership organisation that represents the views of the UK creative industries, states that 96 per cent of its members support remaining in the EU and 84 per cent of its members believed the outcome of the vote on 23 June was important to the future success of their organisations. On the morning of the 24 June, Frieze magazine expressed on Twitter its dismay about the result, citing the future of artists as its central concern:

So why did so many artists want to remain in the EU? And now the vote has been decided, what exactly are the potential consequences for art and culture in the UK? A spokesperson for the Creative Industries Federation claims that the future of arts and culture in Britain is currently uncertain. And yet despite this feeling of the unknown, the industry states it promises to do as much as possible in “safeguarding the future of the UK’s arts, creative industries and cultural education”. It is holding regular meetings with members of the industry throughout London in July to discuss exactly what the departure from the EU will mean for the arts sector, and emphasises that discussion and cooperation will be at the forefront of CFI’s agenda.

Yet regardless of these pledges, there are legitimate reasons to be anxious about the future of the arts in the UK.

The first and most obvious concern is that of funding. Stephen Deuchar, the director of Art Fund, says he is “deeply concerned with the impact leaving the EU will have on culture in the UK and on museums and galleries”, an impact that will be felt because of the stripping away of funding that was once provided by the EU. Creative Europe, the European Union’s programme to support the cultural, creative and audiovisual sectors in the EU, has pledged to invest between the years 2014-2020 €1.46bn into the creative industries. During its first two years, it has supported 230 UK cultural organisations and audiovisual companies as well as the cinema distribution of 84 UK films in other European countries with grants of €40m. For example, the award-winning Slumdog Millionaire received £830,000 for its production from the Creative Europe Fund.

Though in a statement released in the days following Brexit, the Creative Fund announced there will be “no immediate material changes to the current arrangements of those [who have applied for funding]”, the future is looking less certain. Abandoning the EU could potentially result in a loss of this €1.46bn of funding granted to the creative industries, impacting profoundly on the cultural climate of creative Britain.

Though some from the Leave campaign insist that by departing from the EU we are saving millions that is sent to Brussels each week, it is unlikely – given the nature of a government that is inclined to impose incessant cuts and slash the budget of arts sectors throughout the country – that this money will be poured into the creative industries. According to the Arts Council, between 2010 and 2015, figures show that total spending by local government in England on arts and culture development and support has been reduced by 16.6 per cent, tending to hit regions outside London the hardest. For example, in 2012, Newcastle upon Tyne’s local council was threatening to reduce its culture budget by 100 per cent. Eventually, its culture budget was cut by 50 per cent, forcing creative institutes such as the city’s Live Theatre to shrink its budget by 70 per cent.

What are the chances that EU funds will make it into the arts sector budgets up North and elsewhere? Unlikely.

As our departure from the EU strips the UK of this layer of funding, it will also have a potential impact on free movement across Europe and the general sense of international collaboration that is pertinent within the arts. Director of the Tate Modern Frances Morris is renowned for her international outlook in her curatorial direction, and our galleries and museums in general are the homes of international collaboration. Brian Dillon states in Frieze that, “as a teenager, I knew that northern industrial English cities such as Manchester and Sheffield were secretly running on energy from Berlin and Dusseldorf – thanks to the music of Joy Division and Cabaret Voltaire”.

While it is true that departure from the EU does not necessarily mean an end to this sense of cultural collaboration, the chances are that it will be made much more difficult if we’re attempting to collaborate with Europe from the outside.

Also made more complicated will be the free movement of artists and creatives across the EU. Wolfgang Tillmans, the first non-Brit to win the Turner Prize, embodies freedom of movement available to artists between the UK and wider Europe. Born in Germany, Tillman has lived primarily in London since 1995. For many, the reverse has been the case. With its low cost of living, cheap rents and a buzzing creative scene, Berlin has in recent years become the hub for many creatives, with more than 20,000 artists believed to be living in the city to date. Artists can simply pick up their materials and flee. Yet suddenly, with the result of the referendum, this process is potentially going to become much more complex. No longer is Europe a liberating prospect for artists, but a place where they will need visas and paperwork to access.

Belgian theatre director Ivo van Hove states that where Brexit is synonymous with isolation, the arts are “the opposite of that: they are all about the future, development, creativity, collaboration, openness”. Perhaps the most iconic image of the Remain campaign was a photograph portrait by Tillmans that borrows from John Donne’s poem No Man Is An Island.

Part propaganda and part stunning imagery, his posters expose how starkly visual art can relate to politics. This is also true of Antony Gormley's  Woman, Man, Family, Town, Nation, Continent, Europe and Bob and Roberta Smith’s ‘Dear no voter please vote yes 2 Europe we have only got each other – both art works speaking out against Brexit.

Art, said the poet Anthony Anaxagorou during a recent talk at the South Bank Centre, is not about necessarily making change, but about responding. And so, if these artists continue to respond to the political confusion going on around us, there is greater hope for the future of arts and culture in Britain in the aftermath of the EU referendum. While the future of funding and free movement might look bleak, the future of artistic creativity is certainly brighter.

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People are not prepared to see innovation at any price - we need to take care of our digital health

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

As individuals, we have never been better connected. As a society, we are being driven further apart.

Doteveryone’s People Power and Technology report, released this week, found that half of the 2,500 British people we surveyed said the internet had made life a lot better for people like them - but only 12 per cent saw a very positive impact on society.

These findings won’t be news to most people living in Brexit Britain - or to anyone who’s been involved in a spat on Twitter. The fact that we’re constantly connected to our smartphones has not necessarily improved our communities or our understanding of one other, and the trails of data we’re leaving behind are not turning into closer social bonds.

Many of the positives we experience are for ourselves as individuals.

Lots of consumer tech puts simple self-sufficiency first - one-click to buy, swipe right to date - giving us a feeling of cosy isolation and making one little phone an everywhere. This powerful individualism is a feature of all of the big platforms - and even social networks like Facebook and Twitter, that are meant bring us together, do so in the context of personalised recommendations and algorithmically ordered timelines.

We are all the centre of our own digital worlds. So it is no surprise that when we do look up from our phones, we feel concerned about the impact on society. Our research findings articulate the dilemma we face: do we do the thing that is easiest for us, or the one that is better for society?

For instance, 78 per cent of people see the Internet as helping us to communicate better, but 68 per cent also feel it makes us less likely to speak to each other face-to-face. 69per cent think the internet helps businesses to sell their products and services, while 53 per cent think it forces local shops to compete against larger companies online.

It’s often hard to see the causality in these trade-offs. At what point does my online shopping tip my high street into decline? When do I notice that I’ve joined another WhatsApp group but haven’t said hello to my neighbour?

When given clear choices, the public was clear in its response.  

We asked how they would feel if an online retailer offered free one-day delivery for lower income families, but this resulted in local shops closing down - 69 per cent found this unacceptable. Or if their bank invested more in combating fraud and cyber crime, but closed their local branch - 61 per cent said it was unacceptable. Or if their council made savings by putting services online and cut council tax as a result, but some people would find it hard to access these services - 56 per cent found it unacceptable.

It seems people are not prepared to see innovation at any price - and not at the expense of their local communities. The poorest find these trade offs least acceptable.

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

A clearer regulatory environment would support positive, responsible change that supports our society, not just the ambition of a few corporations.

Some clarity about our relationship with web services would be a good start. 60 per cent of people Doteveryone spoke to believed there should be an independent body they can turn to when things go wrong online; 89 per cent would like terms and conditions to be clearer, and 47% feel they have no choice but to sign up to services, even when they have concerns.

Technology regulation is complicated and fragmentary. Ofcom and the under-resourced Information Commissioner’s Office, provide some answers,but they are not sufficient to regulate the myriad effects of social media, let alone the changes that new technologies like self-driving cars will bring. There needs to be a revolution in government, but at present as consumers and citizens we can’t advocate for that. We need a body that represents us, listens to our concern and gives us a voice.

And the British public also needs to feel empowered, so we can all make better choices - adults and children alike need different kinds of understanding and capability to navigate the digital world. It is not about being able to code: it is about being able to cope.

Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and well-being, and reduce health inequalities. Perhaps we need a digital equivalent, to protect and improve our digital health and well-being, and reduce digital inequalities.

As a society, we should not have to continually respond and adapt to the demands of the big corporations: we should also make demands of them - and we need confidence, a voice, and representation to begin to do that.

Rachel Coldicutt is chief executive of Doteveryone.