Myth Busters

panta rei dans lullaby

Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'

Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.

June 2nd, 2016

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Every time the discussion about arts funding comes up, especially on newspaper websites like the Guardian or The Daily Express, the trolls come out to play with their particular brand of "reasoning" about why this poor little country can't afford, or shouldn't even bother, funding the arts.

Well dear readers allow us to debunk those myths for you and when you come up against said trolls in your internet or real world travels don't waste your time arguing with them just say "reason 4 applies here, now push off!"

1. This country is broke

We're not sure if the people who make this claim can read but don't you think if a major economy in the world, like the economy of the UK, was in-fact "broke" it would have been in a few of the newspapers?

This type of comment probably stems from a joke message left on a desk at the UK's Treasury by outgoing Labour minister Liam Byrne in 2010 that said;

"Dear Chief Secretary. I am afraid there is no money. Kind Regards --- and good luck! Liam."

Mr Byrne's joke wasn't funny or true but some journalists and anybody with an invalid point to make seized on the note as proof positive that this country is penniless.

However, if there was no money to pay for anything then everything, from schools to hospitals and beyond, would be closed-down because nobody would be getting paid. Even if people showed up to work anyway there would be no water and no power because the bills would not be getting paid.

That's what happens when you are broke, you don't have any money to pay for stuff.

Provisional numbers from HMRC (the UK's tax people) put receipts across all taxes they collect at £469Billion (up £2Billion from the previous year) for 2012-2013. Tax collection is also a continuos process, the £469Billion doesn't show up in the government's bank account on day one of the financial year with everybody crossing their fingers hoping the money doesn't run out for the next 365 days.

Also, despite recent downgrading by a few agencies this country has a very healthy credit rating that means we can borrow money if we need it, which is what we do all the time.

There's nothing unusual about any of this, it's just how countries work.

2. The poor pay for the play things of the middle class.

Some variations of this reasoning have the middle-classes paying for the pastimes of the rich.

Either way, as an argument, it doesn't hold up to even basic scrutiny.

Properly defining what classifies somebody as being "middle class" is, in and of itself, not a simple task but if we take "poor people" to mean those on very low incomes (at or below the national minimum wage over a year) or those on state benefits then we have a place to start.

Simple arithmetic illustrates that people on low income and state benefits pay a lot less in taxes than those classified as being middle-class. Even people on benefits pay taxes though, VAT is a relatively hefty tax of 20% on almost everything you buy.

Let us take a simple example though.

A middle class family of four (two adults and two children) pay taxes that contribute to the running of state schools. Should they be able to cry foul because a family of six (two adults and four children) with lower income receive the exact same education even though they contribute less, in monetary terms, into the system?

Of course not!

That's how a progressive system works, in theory. A state run education system is of benefit to all so everybody gets the same treatment irrespective of your income tax band or overall contribution.

The arts are no different. Some people contribute more, some contribute less, but the arts benefit everybody just the same.

Again, the amount of money that actually goes into the arts (via Arts Council England, Creative Scotland, etc) is tiny when compared to the overall budget of the UK's government. If people on very low income were to receive their personal contribution to the arts as a rebate every year the amount returned would be irrelevant to their financial standing.

3. The arts are elitist


Sure the ROH is annoying and unimaginative but you can get cheap tickets and they could be even cheaper if they cut some of their costs.

The simple response to this claim is; "oh no they aren't!" Nobody is excluded from taking part in any of the arts activity funded by either ACE, Creative Scotland or local government. If you buy a ticket for a show at the Royal Opera House they don't run a credit check on you before they let you through the door.

Even the ROH has cheap tickets if Opera and Ballet are your thing and you happen to live in London. Scottish Ballet are based in Glasgow, a city where poor people can go to feel morally superior. Birmingham Royal Ballet is based in, funnily enough, Birmingham. A city where people from Glasgow can go to feel morally superior!

If we leave the many arts events that take place that are completely free to one-side for the moment consider this. If your argument is that you can't afford tickets therefore the arts are only for "posh" people then what you are inadvertently doing is arguing for greater subsidy to help reduce ticket prices because you want to go to the theatre but you can't afford it.

Large scale organisations, like the National Theatre, could probably do a lot to reduce costs and their ticket prices but the middle and the small scale can't do that because they don't have much to cut back to begin with. If you want to go to the theatre but can't pay the ticket price, write to your MP and ask for more arts subsidy, not less.

4. The Opera and Ballet Obsession

It's true that the largest slice of public arts money does go toward the largest organisations. A situation that needs to change.

However, the obsession the cultural funding detractors have with opera and ballet are completely ridiculous because they ignore the thousands and thousands of performances that take place year round, produced by small and mid-scale companies, across the entire country.

Not everything is happening in a massive theatre in London or a massive theatre in some other major city for that matter. Additionally, not everything is a performance in a theatre. Often overlooked are education programmes, street theatre, free festivals, galleries, museums and so much more.

5. Non subsidised art is better

In response to such a ludicrous claim we would simply say "prove it!"

The substance for this position depends on what publication you are reading but it's either subsidy that makes the art not risky enough or, conversely, obscure drivel that nobody wants to watch because they (the artists) know they can get away with it since there is little or no financial risk involved.

People who make this claim also don't realise or have conveniently forgotten that a lot of commercially produced arts benefit from subsidy, just not from ACE. The tax relief provided to film production in the UK being one example.

A lot of art that is subsidised is completely terrible, but that's the creative world for you. Sometimes, things are going to suck.

6. It should make economic sense


Dancing folk tend not to have Swiss bank accounts or diverse investment portfolios. Photo: Marcio Cabral de Moura via Flickr

Economists argue that one way to stimulate the economy, especially when that economy appears to be struggling, is to invest, to create jobs, to stimulate!

This is exactly what arts funding does, it creates jobs. Also, what do you think happens when, for example, a choreographer receives a £5,000 commission to create a new work on a dance company or youth group?

Do you imagine they invest that fee in offshore bonds, stash it in a Swiss bank account? No, what they do is pay rent, buy food and purchase goods and services from local and multinational providers. In other words, they get the commission and that money then flows into the economy. One way or another that £5,000 ends up right back where it started, with the government that provided it in the first place.

Let us consider an outdoor arts festival as another example, how does that "make economic sense"?

First of all it creates jobs for the participants. The festival organisers use local contractors for a multitude of services from lights to safety barriers to chairs for people to sit on. The festival attracts people toward the city or town where the festival is taking place including tourists. Those people then spend money on local services like transportation, food and whatever else happens to be available.

Again, it's an economic engine that fuels the flow of money from a centralised source, through the population and then back to the centralised source as well as stimulating spending through related activity.

If you completely eliminate hundreds of millions in arts funding just exactly what do you think the consequences will be? A few less "luvvies" putting on a play?

7. False Equivalency

This argument usually takes the form of; "we can't pay for A because we need to pay for B". A common example is somebody stating that people can't get treatment on the NHS for something or other so why should we put money into the arts.

The false equivalency comes in because the assumption being made is that a person is not getting treatment on the NHS because of arts funding. Making such a claim is as ridiculous as saying soldiers don't have body armour because somebody is receiving housing benefit.

If a soldier doesn't have body armour it's because the Ministry of Defence can't manage their own £43Billion budget and if the NHS can't provide adequate treatment it's because they can't manage their £128Billion budget.

Spending on other government departments causes problems with arts funding, not the other way around.

8. Arts Council England is an old boys network that is craven, lacking in transparency and introduces policies that are not in the best interests of either the arts or the general public.

Ok, you got us on that one!

  • I disagree with most of this but especially Point 7. £1 spent on one item cannot be spent on another so yes, it is literally true that it is body armour versus housing. Most of the other points are variants of that same misunderstanding.These are hard choices which is why, when it comes to public money, we elect politicians to make those choices on our behalf (and then hate them when they do exactly that). The question which the arts dodge with faulty reasoning like that above is 'why spend public money on our projects'. We in the arts are so averse to even stating our case in terms other than our own that we are very lucky not to have suffered more cuts than we have.

  • Mr Dixon, you make a false equivalency. It's not "body armour or housing benefit", it's body armour vs multi-billion pound Typhoon fighters currently protecting penguins in the Falkland Islands. If they don't spend the money on that (too late, we know) then the MOD can have all the body armour they want.

    For an individual artists they have to make the case about "me" because they are the ones creating the work and they are the ones asking for funding but the creative idea on the whole, for most arts funding, includes an awful lot of "everybody else" in terms of who will benefit.

  • Lewis

    Implied by your closing remark is that we are lucky at all to have public money funding the arts in this country. Would you say the same for the public health system? Or public housing? The case has been made very well on this website and others that the arts give back to society far more than they take - which is besides the point. If 'we in the arts' start talking in economic terms to justify our continued existence you will find very soon that we are no longer 'the arts'. I am constantly dismayed by the rhetoric thrown around in the UK, my adopted country, by people like you who believe that anything that isn't directly fuelling the long, sweaty climb out of financial disaster is unworthy of public investment.

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