BE Festival has been growing and giving audiences in Birmingham great theatre entertainment from all over Europe since 2010. On Thursday 5 May I experienced my first BE event, Best of BE Festival at the Bramall Music Hall at the University of Birmingham and what a splendid evening it was. Three performances by three actors from Spain, Ireland and Italy. All were interactive with the audience playing a part and feeding into the narrative.
But the reason I really ventured out last night was to hear the panel discussion following the performances to examine the possible impact of the EU Referendum on the arts in the UK. When it comes to austerity measures the arts is used to be one of the first sectors to suffer from budget cuts and there is no guarantee that financially we would be better or worse off we if departed from the EU. The panelists from business and political backgrounds arguing for Britain exiting the European Union are confident that Britain will reclaim its independence and authority, and have the potential to build its economic strength. Even if this is the case there this does not mean that the arts and cultural sector will benefit from financial growth in the business world. We have heard the arguments that the value of the pound will fall, jobs will be lost and export charges would inevitably affect profits and losses.
Interestingly the creative industries are the only industry in the UK that continued to grow during the recession whilst all other industries either stopped growing or shrunk, so a key part of the economy. The info graphic below demonstrates how this sector in London alone is worth £21.4 billion and has a wider impact on economic growth.
But the emphasis is so much on money and was so during the panel discussion, how else does this affect the creative sector? Cultural and creative exchange across Europe is so critical right now to improve understanding, respect and to facilitate bridge building between different nations and ethnicities. Projects, arts organisations, festivals and events like BE Festival encourage sharing and celebrating the diversity of our continent, with a spirit of solidarity celebrating human connection and cross cultural collaboration. Particularly during times of increasing fear about migration and the refugee crisis. The arts has a part to play to educate, stimulate, and encourage debate.
There is a risk that the UK will have less or no opportunity to access existing EU funds for such projects, and increasing logistical challenges with restrictions to free movement of artists from different countries coming to the UK with artist visas, that are already a challenge for individuals from some countries. Programmes such as Tandem and IETM exist to strengthen EU wide creative projects, shared learning and collaborative working, increasingly to impact on social and environmental change that by nature also positively impacts the economy. Depending on which way the nation votes in June, this will influence how the UK is able to participate in being a key player in the ongoing project and policy development for the arts in Europe, as a benefactor and beneficiary.
As purses tighten and unemployment rises people need to put the blame on something and its easy to blame new migrants for taking jobs and working for too little. Trust decreases, fear and insecurity rises, so people will opt for tighter borders and restrictions. Let’s see what happens on June 23, right in the middle of the next BE Festival in Birmingham. Either way the challenges for the arts to thrive and not just survive continue across the continent, with some nations suffering much worse than others.