Much like almost every other aspect of our vital national infrastructure, arts funding has been heavily concentrated in London. Money has been funnelled to the capital city at the expense of the regions, contributing to the so-called ‘brain drain’. Many of the best minds from the regions have been inexorably drawn to the capital over the last few decades, and many of the most promising young artistic talents have gone with them.
The only way to change this situation is with greater funding for the regions. Recent years have seen massive investment in the infrastructure of Northern cities. Billions of pounds have poured into Manchester Airport, the Liverpool docklands, and Sheffield and Leeds city centres and begun to transform them. As these cities have become more economically prominent, the prospects of young graduates in these areas have improved and many more are now staying. Indeed, there is now an identifiable trend of young people from London heading North, something which would have been unthinkable only ten years ago.
However, man cannot live by bread alone. We also need music, theatre, galleries and all the rest of it to nourish the soul. To truly raise the profile of the North and make it a proper destination, there must be arts funding as well as investment in business.
For this reason, the recent announcement that Arts Council England will be investing more than £414m in the North is extremely welcome. 230 different Northern organisations will be included in its national portfolio between 2018 and 2022, and it is hard to overstate how much of a difference this will make.
Greater Manchester is an interesting example. The £106m that the region is set to receive represents a 90% increase in funds over current levels. Given how creative the region is already, it is easy to wonder how much more it could be capable of with more money coming in.
The financial futures of institutions such as Band On The Wall and the Manchester International Festival have been secured. New developments such as Factory, a venue set to be the North’s cultural flagship when it opens in 2019, have also been guaranteed funding so that they open on time and begin to serve their public.
Other additions to the Arts Council portfolio include the People’s History Museum – the UK’s museum of democracy and the working class – and the Manchester Jewish Museum, as well as other more local centres such as Global Grooves in Tameside and Venture Arts in Manchester which works with disabled artists.
This funding is paid for by cuts to London venues such as the Southbank Centre, the National Theatre and the Royal Opera House. This is sad on the surface, but the reality is that these and others like them have been given priority for too long over regional art centres.
In this way, the hugely increased Arts Council funding fits nicely with the Northern Powerhouse initiative to rebalance the national economy away from London. It is all very well creating jobs in the North to attract young professionals, but if there is no culture and nothing to do then they are still unlikely to come. This extra funding will only encourage more and more people to see the Northern Powerhouse cities as a viable alternative to an expensive lifestyle in the capital city, which is to the great benefit of cities like Manchester.
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