March 31, 2011

UK Budget Cuts will have San Francisco impacts

Following a weekend when nearly 500,000 protestors were reported on the streets of London to voice their opposition to the UK government’s massive budget cuts, Arts Council England (ACE) has announced this year’s funding recipients.

The UK Guardian offers extensive coverage, including a table comparing last year’s to this year’s funding per organization and a map of arts organizations who completely lost funding. You can even download the raw data, if you’re skeptical about the spin inherent to information graphics, or you’d like to create your own. (This is a historic year for UK budgets, but this amount of coverage in non-arts news outlets would be welcome every year, I think, in the UK, as well as here regarding the NEA.)

I’ve been very lucky to have exhibited and produced artwork with organizations who received funds from ACE. In my travels in the UK, I was absolutely astounded with the vibrance of contemporary art across the country, from rural settings in Cumbria, to alternative art spaces in Manchester, to London’s knockout density of world-class institutions. My sympathy goes out to those amazing arts organizations in the UK who’ve lost funding so suddenly.

In Manchester, Chinese Arts Centre — where I spent three amazing months in residence in 2009 — was luckily spared its funding. However, it is difficult to celebrate because arts organizations in Manchester, like those in San Francisco, are especially tight-knit, collaborative, and mutually supportive, and CAC’s close allies and friends at Castlefield Gallery, an artist-run space that I found to be one of the most interesting places to see art in Manchester, had its funding eliminated. This is devastating news for any art organization, but especially for one that has supported local, emerging artists for 26 years. Ironically, I fear that the effect is compounded by ACE’s history of support — their logo is practically ubiquitous in the UK, and the UK’s national museums are free (as they should be). But consequently, the public isn’t used to shelling out entrance fees or making regular donations, whereas in the US, I think it’s more common for art patrons to understand that nonprofits survive with foundation support, memberships, and private contributions.

While the UK may seem very far away, ACE’s reach is remarkably far ranging. For example, ACE supported an exhibition at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art, and local artists like Allison Smith have developed projects with ACE funding for exhibitions here. So the UK’s budget cuts will have local consequences: there will be less opportunities for SF artists seeking commissions and exhibitions elsewhere—such as Bill Fontana’s ACE-supported project at Tate Britain—and diminished support for UK artists to exhibit their work in the US.

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