The Government is Controlling the Survival of the Culture Industry – How is This Going to Change It?

Isaac Castella McDonald 1 December 2020
Image Credit: Here for Culture Toolkit, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

As the first government grants to support the UK’s culture sector are finally announced, the ‘record-breaking’ package can confirm some suspicions about the nature of our government.

On the 12th of October, 1300 lucky Arts organisations were awarded a £257 million package from the government [1]. This is fantastic news. Really at this point I’m happy that something has started to be done. There are, however, serious problems with how, where, and to whom this critical aid is being rolled out.

Firstly, these grants are only permitted to cover costs until March 2021, which is now a little over three months away. To many institutions this may feel like temporary relief rather than help that’s meaningful in the long run.

Moreover, shockingly, only one of the grants announced was awarded in Scotland, with over a third being given to organisations based in London [2]. Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, has recently been vocal in indicting Westminster for an unfair focus on the South in their handling of the pandemic. The way these grants are being allotted is a brazen example of this allegation’s merit.

Moreover, as reported by the ArtsProfessional this week, selected organisations were told that, in order to secure the help they need, they needed to publically tout the governments ‘Here for Culture’ media campaign on their social media and website. The exact quote is very interesting to read:

‘To welcome this funding on your social media accounts (using the Here for Culture hashtag), on your website (using the ‘Here for Culture’ logo) and in your newsletters’.

‘In receiving this funding, you are agreeing to acknowledge this funding publicly by crediting the government’s Culture Recovery Fund. This is a challenging time for the cultural sector, and the ‘Here for Culture’ campaign aims to build a positive movement uniting the members of the public and people across the sector to voice their support for culture. Alongside this, we require you to alert your local media outlets of the news.’

The rhetoric here obscures the fact that it attaches a remedy for the cultural sector with uniting the public in support of Sunak’s bill. The body being ‘supported’ switches half way through the sentence. It’s classic rhetorical sleight of hand.

Of course, a ‘positive movement’ in support of culture that originated in grass-root public organisation, or incitement from the sector’s institutions, would be a great thing in this time of crisis.

But make no mistake, that is not the main point of this inducement. This is the government manipulating desperate institutions to help them cover their interests. This puppeteering is all the more disturbing when it is being forced upon the cultural institutions that are part of the mechanism by which a population is able to resist power.

It is, in short, our government holding a starving industry to ransom.

Calling this out is so important because, as the sector starts proclaiming ‘Here for Culture’, we have to remember the third of applicants who failed to secure any money at all. We have to think about the 100 days it took the government to decide who merited funding or not. We have to remember in the face of the propaganda that, although the funding being given to the culture sector is a step in the right direction, it is far from a great victory, and that this is just the beginning of the remedy for a painful and disastrous year in a large industry. This is not a ‘Hooray’ moment, and the government should not be forcing bleeding organisations to portray it as such just to make sure they survive.

The ability to decide which institutions survive and which don’t, and the ability to compel governmental support from those they decide to save, is in the hands of an unscrupulous government. The Arts sector will survive this pandemic in some form, but we have to ask, how are the government going to mould this survival to their interests?