Town hall chiefs who slash arts budgets have been criticised by one of the North East’s most senior MPs.
Former regional minister Nick Brown today risks re-opening the row over Newcastle City Council’s arts cuts as he hits out at “disproportionate” reductions.
The Labour-controlled local authority was at the centre of national controversy last year when it announced plans to axe 100% of its arts budget.
The outrage prompted the council to create a ï¿½600,000-a-year grant system instead, equalling a cut of around 50% to existing budgets.
In a speech to the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, Newcastle East MP Mr Brown yesterday hit out at councils who think they can pass on heavy cuts to arts sectors.
“The culture budget might seem like an easy hit, but assaulted disproportionately and on every front, it is the wrong thing to do,” Mr Brown said.
The MP, a trustee of The Biscuit Factory Foundation, was speaking at the Art as Cultural Diplomacy Conference in London, where he told delegates that high art and culture should be for the poor as well as for the rich and that disproportionate arts cuts put that aim at risk of failure.
Mr Brown’s speech came just a day after the director of Northern Stage, Lorne Campbell, warned that another round of arts cuts coming in the new year will hit organisations which need regular funding and make repeating success such as The Pitman Painters more difficult.
In a guarded attack on unfair council and Government arts cuts, the former cabinet minister said: “The temptation for national governments and local governments to hit arts funding disproportionately is a very real one. At times of retrenchment, all bureaucracies look to external programmes first for funding cuts, if only because they don’t seem so close to home.
“To the political decision-maker, cuts in the cultural budget can seem slightly less painful than other unpalatable alternatives. I think it is important to pause and reflect on the cumulative effect of such decision making.
“The culture budget might seem like an easy hit, but assaulted disproportionately and on every front, it is the wrong thing to do.”
He added: “The most damaging charge that is constantly levelled against the arts, not least when we are discussing budget cuts, is that these things are only for a cultural elite and not for others. This just isn’t true. It shouldn’t be true. We shouldn’t let it become true.
“Access is important, whether we are discussing museum charges or cut-price tickets for students and young people. I have in my constituency the Live Theatre Company, home to Lee Hall and his plays The Pitman Painters and Billy Elliot. These are great working-class artworks telling stories that are firmly rooted in their time and communities. In their own different way, both plays tell a story of working class people discovering art in the form of paintings and ballet.”
Playwright Hall was among the most vocal critics of Newcastle’s budget plans, accusing the council of hitting the working class with cuts to libraries and arts venues.
Newcastle City Council declined to comment on the speech.
The culture budget might seem like an easy hit, but it is the wrong thing to do