Time for a rethink on arts funding

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 14 March 2011 in Diary
We must direct our arts funding towards those projects which may not be self-sustaining, but deliver concrete public benefit

Our nations greatest lovies are bemoaning the coalition's cuts to the arts. Hardly surprising. But their cries miss the key question, a question that all too often gets pushed aside by a much more fundamental debate about whether the arts should receive public funds at all: if the arts are going to receive public funding (and they are) what aspects of the arts are deserving of such funding?

I only ask, because the central point put forward by the lovies is that the commercial success of The King's Speech proves that the UK Film Council should not have been abolished, and that the public funding of the arts in general actually contributes a massive £7bn to the UK economy. And here's my problem with that: if a piece of art produces a commercial return, why on earth isn't the production of that piece of art left to the private sector?

Art is not an essential public service, in the sense that say the NHS is. Accordingly, any justification for public funding for the arts must based on the belief that it delivers a significant public value that cannot be delivered by the private sector for reasons of profitability.

On that basis, the conclusion must surely be that any public funding of the arts should not go to projects which have the potential to turn a profit (The King's Speech), but instead to those projects (say a dance therapy charity) which have artistic merit and deliver public benefit, but which have no hope of being self-sustaining on a commercial basis?

Whatever your political persuasion, there's no denying that the arts will continue to receive public funding long into the future. With that in mind, perhaps it's time we thought again about the kind of debate we need around the subject of state funding for the arts.

Shane Greer used to work for the North West Disability Arts Forum

Tags: Arts Funding, The King's Speech, UK Film Council

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