A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

To leave or to remain in the EU? That's the key question hovering above Brits' heads this week. Many lines have been drawn in the battle for Britain's future and the debate has ranged from the NHS to immigration, from the economy to security, from education to farming. But is Brexit a major concern for people in the art world? Here, we take a closer look at what exactly the creative industries stand to lose or gain from this oh-so important vote.

The UK has a large percentage of creative talent that have found global success for an island of its modest populace; from Benedict Cumberbatch, Kiera Knightley, Anthony Gormley, Vivienne Westwood, Tracy Emin, Stella McCartney, Adele and JK Rowling - the UK is a world leader in popping out world-renowned arts figures. There is, of course, wonderful cultural output from across Europe too but it is without doubt that the UK takes the lead with representation on an international level.

London is the cultural capital of Europe and the question left hanging here is, do we even need to be in the EU to survive? Our creative output owes some of its vibrancy to its global influences. Whether its Bollywood, Japanese anime or American rap - the UK’s canvas is a glorious, messy blend of international tones, textures and sound."Freed from the shackles of EU law and EU efforts to subsume our work into a European superstate" explains Munira Mirza, London’s deputy mayor, "our output would be less inhibited and even more dynamic, be it for production, trade or partnerships."
Creative Europe is the body responsible for the majority of EU arts funding, its chief function is to 'reward achievement, highlight excellence and raise awareness of Europe's culture and heritage'. It has been used for projects as varied as building Manchester's HOME theatre complex, films such as The King’s Speech, to Ledbury Poetry Festival and many individual artist pieces. However, in 2014 the UK received only £11.1 million from Creative Europe. Less funding than any other country, including France (£44.2 million), Belgium (£32.1 million) or Germany (£20.4 million). According to Harriet Bridgeman, founder of London’s Bridgeman, a vote to leave the EU would only strengthen the creative sector's access to funding. She believes that UK’s contribution to the EU’s Creative Europe initiative, which offers support across the continent to the entire sector, could instead be ploughed directly back into our own local industry.

British arts could benefit from a Brexit but dig a little deeper and there is no doubt that it could also have catastrophic consequences. Free movement between the continent and the UK would be suspended and immigration terms would need to be negotiated individually with each European country. As the continent's cultural capital, London is the place to come to see art, learn about art and make art happen. By leaving the EU, we would be putting a direct barrier between 28 EU nations from doing so. Visitors, students, professionals and potential collaborators may switch to a more accessible country, potentially displacing London and the UK as a centre for cultural excellence and potentially weakening our the sector’s economy. 

A review from the Creative Industries Federation showed that the UK relies on Europe as the industry's largest export market, totalling 56% of overseas trade. It is therefore vital that Britain remains influential on regulatory decisions which may have a bearing on future trading. In the result of a leave, it could take years for the renegotiation of trade agreements with EU countries and a complete overhaul of the trade agreements already in place with international buyers. Many of which have been made on the strength of the UK’s relationship with the EU.

It is true that by leaving the EU, money could be redistributed, but it is not yet clear where this money will be spent. It is also worth keeping in mind the many extra pots of funding from the EU beyond Creative Europe, which support Higher Education sector, or community development and social cohesion with objectives that are often met by cultural outputs and indirectly support the arts.
Concerns from within the industry focus on the controversy of suspending free movement. This step feels counteractive; art is by its nature, a form of communication and the exchange of ideas and the clashing of cultures is key to creativity. Research from the Creative Industries Federation shows an overwhelming 96% of creative industry employees are voting in favour of remain and over 282 artist names have been added to the StrongerIn campaign.

Both sides of the Brexit debate are bombarding us with stats, ‘facts’ and charts. The problem is, nobody really knows the implications of leaving the EU, it is completely uncharted territory and projections are unreliable. Our creative industries have managed to survive a recession and a swathe of cuts under the Tory government’s austerity measures, we can only hope they remain as resilient whatever the results may be post-June 23rd.

The London Magazine, 2015
Photo of A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara