Brexit: dismay and concern after historic decision to leave EU

Artists, institutions and art market respond to referendum result

by Martin Bailey  |  24 June 2016
Brexit: dismay and concern after historic decision to leave EU
British Prime Minister David Cameron had said that Britain would be stronger, safer and better off in the EU. After the vote to leave, Cameron announced today he would be stepping down. (Image: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
British arts organisations and artists are dismayed by the results of the European referendum, in which 52% of voters opted to leave. The decision by David Cameron to resign as prime minister in the early autumn has only added to the political and economic uncertainty, which will increase difficulties in the art world.

Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, voiced the concerns of many when he told us this morning that the fund is “deeply concerned at the impact leaving the EU will have on culture in the UK, and particularly on its museums and galleries.” He explained: “At one level there is obviously now great financial uncertainty—the effect on European funding streams for the arts, for example—but quite as important is the potential effect on the spirit that drives a myriad of international partnerships in the arts”.

During the campaigning, there was overwhelming arts support for remaining in Europe. A survey of members of the Creative Industries Federation had shown that 96% backed “remain”.

The cultural sector is now so cosmopolitan that there is a strong commitment to internationalism and links with Europe, a sentiment which is strengthened by the fact that art has crossed borders for centuries. There is therefore a strong emotional commitment to being part of Europe.

Financially, there is great concern that there will be economic uncertainty for many months and even years, as the UK goes through the complex process of withdrawal. If the economy suffers, there could be further cuts in government expenditure, leading to lower levels of funding for arts organisations. Economic problems could also reduce corporate sponsorship for culture.

There are also specific issues impacting on the arts. The European Regional Development Fund and the Creative Europe programme grant millions of pounds a year to UK arts organisations. Tougher controls on visitors and immigration may make it more difficult for foreign artists to visit or work in Britain. A fall in incoming tourism would impact negatively on museums, such as Tate Modern, which has just opened its huge extension.

London, along with New York, is the world’s largest art market, and both the disruption of leaving the EU and possible trade barriers could have a damaging impact. The financial uncertainty is also likely to reduce buying by wealthy UK collectors. Although leaving the EU could lead to some advantages, such as changes to artist’s resale rights, the uncertainty is bound to have a damaging short-term impact. It will take years for the full impact of Brexit on the arts to become apparent.

Politically, a new Conservative prime minister could well lead to fresh faces at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport—replacing John Whittingdale as culture secretary and Ed Vaizey as the long-standing culture minister. Vaizey wrote on Twitter minutes after Cameron’s resignation: “So sad to see PM going. Utterly decent to the end.”

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