Culture: who pays?

Battle of Ideas festival 2018, Saturday 13 October, Barbican, London.


In a period of spending cuts, the case for increased funding for cultural projects can be greeted with scepticism. But should cultural projects be viewed as ‘extras’ or ‘frills’ that should be scaled back in a time of fiscal crisis?

The recent opening of the V&A museum in Dundee, at a cost of £80million, has been lauded worldwide and welcomed by the city’s council leader, John Alexander, as putting ‘fire in the belly’ of the city’s people, boosting their confidence after decades of economic decline. But not everyone agrees it is money well spent. The museum’s final bill was nearly double the original budget and it will require continual public subsidies of more than £1.7million a year to help meet its running costs. In response, anti-austerity campaigners have organised protests in the city’s poorest neighbourhoods. One councillor has asked that in the face of public service cuts and school closure, how can this cost can be justified?

Meanwhile, corporate sponsorship often raises ethical dilemmas. Recently, BAE Systems, which employs 18,000 people in the north of England, was lined up to sponsor the Great Exhibition of the North for an estimated £500,000, but pulled out after an online petition calling for the event to sever ties with the arms manufacturer garnered more than 2,000 signatures.

Many have argued that when the cohesion of society is threatened by visible inequalities in wealth, housing, health and education, there is an even more vital role for culture to play within Britain’s society.

However, despite such socially worthy claims, the funding of these projects remains contentious. As we approach The National Lottery’s 25th anniversary, what is the role of culture in today’s Britain, who should fund it? Is culture itself is a luxury or a necessity in a modern-day society?

Alexander Adams
artist, writer and art critic; author, Culture War: art, identity politics and cultural entryism (forthcoming)

Sean Gregory
director of learning and engagement, Barbican Centre and Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Dr Tiffany Jenkins
writer and broadcaster; author, Keeping Their Marbles: how treasures of the past ended up in museums and why they should stay there

Barb Jungr
award-winning singer, songwriter, composer and writer

Claire Fox
director, Academy of Ideas; author, I STILL Find That Offensive!