Terry Grimley: Birmingham arts cuts could have been much worse
Arts critic Terry Grimley gives his views on the cuts to the arts in Birmingham.
Thanks to a discussion paper which was leaked earlier this month, we know the city council’s arts cuts could have been even worse.
That nightmare scenario would have seen grants to a handful of large organisations slashed by 30 per cent while the rest were cut off abruptly without a penny.
As it is, companies like the CBSO and Birmingham Royal Ballet are being asked to manage cuts of about nine and 18 per cent respectively while also facing cuts in their grants from the Arts Council.
It seems the city council looked at the possibility of making its £1.8 million saving with one big cut, by withdrawing its £2.373 million grant to Thinktank.
Unfortunately it seems that some of its co-funders might have demanded their money back.
Coun Martin Mullaney, cabinet member for leisure, sport and culture, needs no lectures from me about the important role the arts need to play in achieving Birmingham’s declared ambition to become one of the world’s 20 most liveable cities.
Clearly it has a long way to go and needs all the culture it can get, judging from a recent survey which placed it bottom of a list of 26 UK cities for “smartness”.
This survey used a number of cultural indices, including not only the number of bookshops in each city, but an analysis of the books they actually sell. It seems Brummies may have been marked down for buying too many by Katie Price and not enough by Hilary Mantel.
It is self-evident that in these exceptional circumstances the arts cannot expect to escape the general belt-tightening. At the same time, it remains true that we spend so little on them in the first place – in relative terms – that you will never make great savings through cutting them.
Coun Mullaney says that he hopes companies –in particular the Town Hall and Symphony Hall, which will take the biggest single hit among those receiving ongoing funding – will be able to find commercial sponsors.
But the arts have been going flat out to find business sponsorship for 30 years now, and it’s hard to imagine there are legions sponsors just waiting to be asked.
These are bleak and uncharted waters.
As far as Birmingham is concerned, we can at least be thankful that the council has consulted arts organisations and declared its intention of helping them through the storm without any being lost overboard.
Time will tell whether this is possible.