The battle over arts funding is still raging, with the latest fall-out this week being a £3.5 million cut to the arts in Wales.
When in March last year it was revealed that the Arts Council of England would soon be making drastic cuts in light of an apparent £1bn lottery shortfall — and a massive diversion of these funds to the Olympics — a theatrical furore ensued. Tessa Jowell having brazenly lied about the Olympics budget, which now stands at nearly four times what was originally touted, was unapologetic about grabbing £112.5m from the arts for the £9.3 billion “once in a lifetime good cause”; the Heritage Lottery Fund was set to lose £161.2m and Sport England faced a £99.9m cut.
The spotlight has largely been hogged by the prima donnas, with a set piece at the Old Vic last month where some 500 big-wigs of the theatre world – members of Equity union — overwhelmingly passed a resolution of no-confidence in the Arts Council of England. Details of cuts decided upon by the Council were announced in December, with appeals to be submitted by mid January, which allowed 12-18 working days to respond!
Since then, partly as a result of high profile campaigns, 17 organisations — mainly more prominent outfits — have retained their funding, while a great many of the 212 organisations that have not had their funding renewed are smaller, more precarious initiatives, including touring groups and practitioners who do less vaunted educational and therapeutic work at a local level. Indymedia also reports that “among those who have lost all their funding are Tara Arts, a leading Asian theatre company specialising in classical plays; the Drill Hall, London’s leading lesbian and gay theatre venue; and London Bubble, a south London company producing children’s theatre”.
While many are simply furious with the heavy handed and unaccountable behaviour of the Arts Councils, the episode has largely been portrayed in the media as an Arts vs Sports stand-off. This angle has in some ways played into the hands of government spin. New Labour and the Olympic cartel have talked a lot about the regeneration of one of the most deprived areas of Europe, the sporting legacy for the underprivileged next generation etc etc. The eight per cent Sport England budget cut will result in 186,000 fewer people being given a chance to take part in a sporting activity.
Working-class people throughout East London know — or will soon realise — the horrific truth of what the Olympics will hold for them. As with every other Olympic build in the last decades, it has been an opportunity for the rich to orchestrate what are essentially mass clearances and gentrification of working class areas under the cover of the razzamatazz and patriotic rhetoric.
East Londoners will see rising house prices and living costs, evictions, raised local taxes, Compulsory Purchase Orders, the loss of Hackney Marshes and much of the Lower Lea Valley, which includes an extensive network of waterways and natural habitats on a key migratory route… this will be the main impact for the working-class in East London. The London Development Agency has ridden roughshod over previous planning regulations to preclude community opposition. Also, there are fears that even the many thousands of jobs created will not match the skills of local people.
Urgent working-class community and trade union action needs to be taken to fight both the encroachments of the Olympics and the cuts to local arts projects.