Of all arts organisations that express the European idea, the European Union Youth Orchestra is perhaps unique. The Orchestra was a British proposal, put to the European Parliament in 1976 by a British MEP, and the Orchestra has acted as a cultural ambassador for the EU for over 40 years. Its Honorary Patrons include the Heads of Government of all of the EU’s Member States, the President of the European Commission, and the President of the European Parliament. In 2016, having announced that it would stop operating due to lack of EU funds, President Jean-Claude Juncker intervened to enable the European Union to return to core funding the EUYO.
In October 2017, however, the Orchestra announced that, as a result of Brexit, and following an approach from the Italian Ministry of Culture, it would relocate from London to Ferrara in Italy. It is expected that young British musicians will not be eligible to participate in the orchestra in future.
Marshall Marcus, Chief Executive of the Orchestra, expressed its dilemma with great clarity:
“You can’t ask for EU funding and then not be in the EU.”
While the move was seen as inevitable, it was still greeted with dismay in the UK arts world, which still faces the uncertainties generated by Brexit two years after the referendum vote.
The question of what will be the impact of Brexit on the arts in the UK is not simple, as policy responsibilities are shared between the UK Government and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and there is a lack of hard evidence.
Lack of up to date data is a real problem in evaluating the impact of Brexit on the arts and creative industries in the UK with any rigour. The UK Government, however, published a Creative Industries Sector Report describing the sector’s current relationship with the EU. The report describes a sector that:
Contributes significantly to the UK’s economy;
Grows faster than the UK economy as a whole;
Employs a lot of people – in 2016, 2 million people worked in the UK’s Creative Industries (6.7% were EU nationals – a proportion broadly similar to the UK economy as a whole), and
Is important for trade - 9.4% of the value of all UK services exports in 2015 (45% of these exports went to other EU countries in 2015).
In terms of EU funding, the UK was allocated €10.8 billion related to Creative Industry projects from the European Structural and Investment Funds for 2014-2020. The EU Horizon 2020 programme also supports the Creative Industries, but from published statistics, it is not possible to accurately estimate how much Horizon 2020 funding benefits the sector.
The UK Creative Industries are also covered by EU Directives including the Services Directive and the Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications Directive. These cover important areas such as copyright and make it easier and cheaper for Creative Industries companies to trade cross-border within the EEA.
The sector was unhappy about the report, but their evidence was not published. Arts commentator Dave O’Brien wrote that:
“To be blunt, the Brexit Creative Industries Sector Report is an absolute disgrace. It is in no way at all an impact assessment, rather it is a series of descriptive statements, & the views of the sector have been redacted.”
The UK Government also launched its “Creative Industries Sector Deal” in March 2018. This invests £150m in ‘creative clusters to compete globally’, ‘technologies and content of the future,’ and ‘creative skills’.
The sector’s response was unenthusiastic. The Arts felt that digital businesses were supported in preference to culture, and the Creative Industries Federation noted that the deal was a ‘welcome first step’.
It is clear that the UK Government still has work to do to overcome these concerns, despite the economic success of the sector. The Arts Council of England reported that the potential impact of a ‘bad’ Brexit could be very significant:
The vast majority (89%) of organisations reported that artistic development was the most likely area to suffer from a bad settlement;
64% of (English) arts organisations currently work inside the European Union - touring and ‘sending UK artists abroad’ being the most popular types of activity;
40% need to regularly move equipment and objects between the UK and the EU;
Nearly half are worried that both EU and UK citizens may not be able to work at short notice in either jurisdiction for short periods, and
A third of organisations employ EU nationals, however this rises to over half in art forms such as Dance.
As noted at the start, a major concern is that the arts sector in England will lose the £40m per year or so that it currently receives from EU funds. There is, as yet, no sign that this will be restored. As arts commentator James Doeser wrote in the Stage:
“EU structural funds have helped build and rebuild the theatre infrastructure of the UK (Sage Gateshead, Liverpool Everyman) and Creative Europe has helped instigate—and lubricate—international collaborations across the continent”.
In Scotland, the Scottish Government, by contrast, has announced a major new arts fund for international projects to help offset the impact of Brexit. The International Creative Ambition Programme will support the creation of new international collaborations. There is no such initiative as yet from the responsible authorities in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland.
To conclude, it is very unlikely that the uncertainties of Brexit will be resolved soon. It is to be hoped that the future is a positive one for the UK and the EU, and that art plays a major role. As Isabelle Schwartz of the European Cultural Foundation said:
“Art... creates spaces for creative confrontation, exchange and dialogue, spaces that allow the negotiation of differences by listening to and engaging with the other while being open and welcoming. And this is exactly what Europe needs, today more than ever, so to be able to re-imagine and re-invent itself within a multi-polar world.”
Artists’ responses to Brexit reflect this diversity of view. While the Young Vic's artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah sees dramatic potential:
“Brexit, wherever you sit on it, has awoken a generation of playwrights.”
the artist Tracey Emin was more elegiac:
“I’m so proud of being British but I’m also extremely proud about being part of Europe. I’m deeply saddened that within a year Britain is going to be demoted to being a tiny little island floating around in the North Sea.”
We shall see.