The arts, says Rupert Christiansen, are as essential to our national dignity as the Queen or the Lake District – and that is why they must be properly funded.
In a desperate bid to soften the hard hearts of number-crunching Treasury wonks in the run-up to the summer’s Comprehensive Spending Review, the Arts Council has commissioned and published a report which aims to show the “economic value of public investment in arts and culture”.
The figures look superficially impressive on paper. The arts contribute 0.4 per cent to GDP, in return for 0.1 per cent contribution from the taxpayer, and some index has been found which concludes that this represents a better return than that offered by the health, wholesale and retail sectors. Nearly £1 billion of the £12.8 billion annual arts turnover comes from tourists. Subsidised culture feeds the creative industries such as fashion, design and telly drama series which are major exports. And so forth.
What one has to bear in mind is that there are many other such depositions from other areas of society currently being placed in the hands of Osborne’s mandarins, and sceptical eyebrows may well be raised. Yes, the arts and culture are a jolly good thing, they will say, and we wish them well. But those figures can be turned around so that it emerges – for instance – that every opera ticket sold by one of the major companies is subsidised by at least £50. There are luxuries and there are necessities, and the arts fall into the former category: money saved by cutting the “luxuries” of opera and ballet can be transferred to the essentials of health and education, and private philanthropy and the commercial market (that is ticket sales) can take up the slack, it will be argued.
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