By Judith Knight, Manick Govinda

26 October 2017 - 11:20

Woman dancing in striped dress in front of window
'Artists throughout history have travelled across the world looking for new influences.' Photo  ©

Pan Xiaozhen, used under license and adapted from the original

Manick Govinda of UK arts producing organisation Artsadmin is an advocate for the UK’s vote to leave the European Union. His colleague Judith Knight, who founded the organisation, takes the opposite view.

Manick Govinda – in favour of the UK leaving the EU

Those who voted 'leave' are in the minority in the arts sector

The majority decision to leave the EU after the UK’s public referendum has revealed a striking division among the public. It affects nearly every aspect of daily life – including arts and culture.

The Creative Industries Federation surveyed its members and found that 96 per cent wanted to remain in the EU. Maintaining a diverse, international workforce was one reason – so was the importance of EU funding for the arts, cultural and creative industries in the UK.

I’m in a minority of arts professionals who voted to leave the EU, and I’ve experienced a huge fall-out in the arts community for doing so.

But our cultural haven is out of touch with the majority of the people – 52 per cent of the British public agree with me.

You can be in favour of leaving the EU and in favour of freedom of movement

Artists are concerned about leaving the EU. The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISN) and a-n The Artists Information Company (a-n) launched a new campaign called #FreeMoveCreate in July 2017 to protect freedom of movement for self-employed artists and musicians within Europe.

The campaign surveyed its 28,000 members, and the 7.25 per cent who responded were mainly concerned about the threat to freedom of movement posed by the referendum result. The survey showed that 70 per cent of performers travel overseas for work, and some musicians travel to the EU to work more than 40 times a year, staying for an average eight days. In visual arts, 53 per cent of a-n’s members who travelled to the EU had average stays of four to seven days. For British artists, France topped the list, followed by Germany, Italy, Spain and The Netherlands as popular travel destinations, suggesting that proximity and wealth of nations were strong pull factors.

Since the UK voted to leave the EU, 19 per cent of music professionals have seen a negative impact on their work:

‘British musicians are now less likely to be called to auditions; concerts and projects were being cancelled or put on hold, and university and conservatoire students within the music industry were looking elsewhere for postgraduate courses.’ (ISN report)

I question the validity of the survey if only 7.25 per cent of a committed community of paid-up artists and musicians members responded. According to Survey Gizmo:

‘Internal surveys will generally receive a 30-40 per cent response rate or more on average, compared to an average ten to 15 per cent response rate for external surveys.’

Translate the Brexit vote as a survey, and the democratic participation is an entirely different affair, with 72 per cent turnout of which 17,401,742 people voted 'leave'.

Freedom of movement has never been equal, in the EU or elsewhere

Uncertainty over the future of freedom of movement within the EU for British and EU nationals is understandable, but the UK government has insisted that no EU citizen living in the UK will have to leave at the point of Brexit. And, as I argued elsewhere, non-EU citizens do not have the luxury of free movement.

I've campaigned fiercely with the Manifesto Club and English PEN to relax regulations for non-EU artists who wish to apply for short visits (30 days) and longer-term temporary residencies in the UK of up to five years. That led to the introduction of the Permitted Paid Engagement visitor route and Tier 1 Exceptional Promise visas for artists, performers, writers and musicians, endorsed by Arts Council England.

Visa red-tape doesn't only exist in the UK, but in all of Europe, as artist Daniela Ortiz's recent exhibition at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art shows. The exhibition, titled ABC of Racist Europe, draws on Daniela’s own experience as a Peruvian immigrant to Spain, and her struggle against EU bureaucracy to gain residential status while pregnant. Or there is the work of Yugoslav-born artist Tanja Ostojic, and the Danish-based Freemuse’s important work against EU/Schengen visa bureaucracy for non-EU musicians.

Artists throughout history have travelled across the world looking for new influences, experiences and cultural inspiration – by choice, or as refugees or exiles. Progress in this century has eased mobility for artists, but travel is still the privilege of the wealthy nations. Brexit will provide a greater opportunity to consolidate cultural relationships with many of the 52 Commonwealth nations, the big emerging economies of India, China, Brazil and Russia, and others who want exchange with the UK.

The English language is the lingua franca of business, travel and international relations and produces some of the best art, music, film directors, performances and literature in the world. Openness, tolerance and cultural collaboration are the important factors in building relationships and friendships across Europe and the world.

The UK should be proud of its current cultural exchanges and look forward to more.

Judith Knight – in favour of the UK remaining in the EU

Even now, 15 months after the referendum, I feel grief, anger and dismay at what I see as the most disastrous political and social decision this country has made in my lifetime.

Thirty-seven per cent of the UK electorate voted for Brexit. That's far from the overwhelming victory Brexiteers – those in favour of the decision to leave the EU – imply. That electorate excludes people under 18 years old, and three million EU citizens who contribute professionally, socially and financially to UK society.

Is the arts sector out of touch?

Even if – as some argue – the arts sector is out of touch with that 37 per cent, it isn't necessarily out of touch with the British public. The role of the arts is to lead, to offer new radical ideas, to demonstrate empathy and understanding, and to inspire. Its role is not to simply follow, and definitely not to follow the xenophobic views of the right-wing press and politicians who led us into this mess.

Will Brexit make it easier for non-EU artists to visit the UK?

Restricting movement for EU citizens does not make it easier for artists from other parts of the world to enter the UK. There are strong and admirable attempts to loosen visa restrictions for artists, but Brexit has given the UK permission to close its doors rather than open them. There is no evidence that our borders are opening up to citizens from the Commonwealth or elsewhere. The opposite is true, with performances often cancelled as musicians, poets and performers are denied visas.

Artists should be free to travel, and should look further afield than their own continents. We should develop stronger ties with China, Korea and South Africa – and we do. Artists who work in and with Europe also work in and with countries all over the world. The familiarity of our EU relationships brings our worlds closer together, and that in turn shrinks the distances between us and all the world's countries.

What are we losing as we exit the EU?

I am proud to work in an arts community that seeks to break down boundaries between countries. But reduced national arts budgets, restricted access to EU culture funds, tightening immigration laws and ever more nationalistic attitudes are pointing us firmly in the opposite direction.

How will Brexit affect arts funding for the UK?

Our European colleagues, students, interns, collaborators, performers, and directors see a bleak future for our work together.

Artsadmin is part of two EU-funded initiatives – Imagine 2020 for work about the environment and climate change, and Create to Connect, participation projects focusing on audiences. We received €1.8m from the European Regional Development Fund towards the refurbishment of our building Toynbee Studios. That's where we produce our projects, run spaces for rehearsals, for artists’ development, a free advisory service and many other initiatives. Without EU funding, much of that work wouldn’t happen.

It's not just the funding. It’s also about the relationships, the connections, the partnerships, the shared values, the inspiration, the knowledge – the value most of our European counterparts put on the arts. Compare, for example, the USA which is shutting down the National Endowment for the Arts, and Germany’s lavish arts funding.

Creative Europe’s figures show that the UK is the second most successful recipient of EU culture funds after France. We have more active cultural partners than any other European country. We know we can continue to apply for EU funds for a little longer, and we’ve seen that the appetite for collaboration is strong on both sides. In 2017, there has been a year-on-year increase of 30 per cent of successful Cooperation Project applications involving UK organisations. But how long can we keep this up? How long until European partners think we’re too risky as potential partners?

Creative Europe says:

'For the EU cultural sector, losing the UK will reduce the overall pool of talent, reduce the Creative Europe budget and affect the quality of projects. The UK’s continuing participation is therefore in all our interests. Both sides will be the poorer if the UK is not able to stay in.'

The UK arts sector is losing status in the EU and the world

The UK arts sector used to believe, rather arrogantly, that it was the most important in the world. But just look at the programmes of major international festivals – Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Festival d’Avignon, Theater der Welt – very few UK companies are in those programmes now. By severing our relationship with the EU, there will be even fewer in future. When Europe is looking outwards to the world, the UK seems to be looking in on itself. I fear the return of the cultural isolation that many of us worked so hard over the years to change.

We have to work harder to strengthen our values and renew our attempts to create a more tolerant world, where artists and others can travel freely, engage with ideas and collaborate with those from all nations. We have to keep touring, travelling, collaborating, inviting, employing, exchanging, reciprocating. We also have to speak out against xenophobia and small-island mentality – the worst effects of Brexit. If some think this puts the arts sector out of touch with that 37 per cent, then we have to do everything we can to offer an alternative view.

Judith Knight is Founding Director of Artsadmin, and Manick Govinda is Artsadmin's Head of Artists' Advisory Services. This feature is part of Culture after Brexit – a conversation curated by the British Council, about the future of the cultural relationship between the UK and the European Union after Britain exits the EU.

You might also be interested in: