Brexit blues

Alistair Brown, 21.02.2018
The sector's concerns are not being addressed
The arts and culture sector is famously pessimistic about Brexit. Back in 2016, the Creative Industries Federation found that a whopping 96% of its members wanted to remain in the EU.

Two years later, a flurry of reports from Arts Council England (ACE), the Culture Select Committee and Ulster University reveal – unsurprisingly – that few have changed their mind. In fact, quite the opposite – a growing sense of fear emanates from their pages.

The ACE report shows that the impacts of Brexit are already very real for many museums. Consider the example of Leeds Museums, which lost the opportunity to be part of European Capital of Culture last year, and is also facing legal and contractual uncertainty in planning for major events such as Yorkshire Sculpture International in 2019.

In addition to fears about lending objects across EU borders and the loss of EU funding, it and many other museums are also deeply concerned about the future status of EU nationals in their organisations.

The issues facing the sector in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are all the more stark. EU funding has played a more important role in the cultural sector than in Britain, and cross-border partnerships are common.

The dismantling of the legal and regulatory agreements that underpin this relationship – and the potential threat to the Good Friday Agreement – are nothing less than frightening.

Yet surely – surely – there must be some upsides to Brexit? Several of the recent reports make an honest attempt at answering this question. But you get the profound sense that their authors struggled to come up with anything positive to say – even, in ACE’s case, after surveying 992 separate arts organisations.

A handful of respondents say that they’re pleased with a temporary increase in visitor numbers due to the weak pound; a few are also interested in the possibility of unspecified "deregulation". It’s not much of a return on two years of political chaos.

Surveying these reports, you’re left with the impression that it is not just the operations of museums that are affected by Brexit. The very values that museums stand for – promoting cultural exchange, inspiring audiences, producing accurate new knowledge – would be undermined by a hard Brexit.

From where we are at present, the sector sees only the prospect of burnt bridges and lost opportunities. We fear that we are entering an era in which resources will be fewer, working internationally will be harder, and our public offer will be lesser.

ACE promises that it will use its research to fight for a Brexit settlement that works for arts and culture. Yet there is precious little evidence that the sector’s concerns have been acted on to date. Is anyone in government – the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the new culture secretary – really making our case?


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Keith Thomas
Chief Executive, Petersham Group Ltd
22.02.2018, 11:03
Well written, but I fear that in Government no one is listening. I recommend members read 'Brexit and the Museum Sector in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland' by Elizabeth Crooke and Gina O'Kelly of Ulster University and Museums Association Ireland, very good paper. respectively.