In February, I read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, a novel that jumps back and forth on a timeline before and after a pandemic that wipes out much of the Earth’s population. Even pre-lockdown and social distancing, it felt a little too pertinent to be a comfortable read.
One of the book’s few hopeful takeaways is its certainty in the re-emergence of Shakespeare and orchestral music, re-enforced by the refrain ‘survival is not enough,’ a quote borrowed from Star Trek.
In our own pre-apocalyptic timeline, Rishi Sunak announced our 2020 budget on March 11, a week and a half before the beginning of lockdown. On initial glance, the budget looked remarkably positive for arts funding, including a £250m fund for local, small museums and libraries, as well as a £90m Cultural Development Fund for outside of London. There is a new allowance of £25k for every primary school to invest in ‘arts activities’, and the DCMS will see a rise in their budget from £1.6bn to £1.7bn.
And, overall, this feels incredibly positive. It’s a surprising turnaround from several years in a row of cuts to arts and cultural funding. And, while not wanting to look a gift horse in its mouth, I did ask why there should be a change of heart now?
At the time, I thought these developments must reflect the changes incurred by Brexit – back when that was the all-consuming story. I assumed the budget was taking into account the sizable loss of funding from the EU at the end of the year. Most significantly, our government announced their withdrawal from Creative Europe, a €1.46bn fund for arts and heritage institutions around Europe, which has been worth €74m to 334 organizations in the UK since 2014. (Our withdrawal seem to be driven purely by nationalistic politics, given that 13 non-EU states happily participate and benefit from the Creative Europe fund.)
But now, I wonder if neither regret for the years of budget cuts, nor preparation for the loss of EU funding explains the sudden investment in the arts. Instead,