Monday, April 23, 2007

Arts funding a real lottery

The outrage expressed by arts and sports bodies over cuts to their budgets to help fund the 2012 Olympics highlights the fact that the existence of many cultural and sporting projects is a real lottery. They often hang on the proceeds garnered through the National Lottery, which is a not-so-subtle way of redistributing money from those on lower incomes to the state. The Arts Council, for example, has used more than £2 billion of lottery money since 1994. The lottery also funds most of the one-off grants that the Arts Council hands out. Of course, as lottery dependency has grown, so the New Labour government has reduced the amount of support given to the arts out of general taxation. The Arts Council budget was frozen last year and cut for 2006/07. More severe cuts in budgets are being planned by the government, which has already led to protests from the British Library and other major institutions. Now the latest raid on lottery funds means that Arts Council England will have another £112.5m sliced from its budget to help foot the £9.3bn Olympics construction budget, the Heritage Lottery Fund will lose £161.2m and Sport England faces a £100m cut. Altogether, the contribution of the lottery to the Games has soared to £2.2bn – 50% higher than the original estimate.

Nicholas Hytner, director of the National Theatre, said: "There is a spectacular lack of logic in using money earmarked for the arts to plug the holes in the Olympics bills. The money raided from the lottery will largely affect small, innovative, experimental organisations and individuals who are the lifeblood of creativity in the UK. Pulling the carpet out from under them and nobbling their money is undermining the future of our major arts institutions." Grassroots sport will also be affected by cuts in funding, which the Central Council for Physical Recreation described as "perverse", considering that one of the stated aims of the 2012 Games is to increase participation in sport. By all accounts, no such strategy exists, which reinforces the view that the 2012 Olympiad is destined to be a profit-driven, commercial free-for-all that benefits sponsors, surveillance companies and property developers. Sport will come a far distant second in the order of priorities. Blair, as we know, is concerned about his legacy as he prepares to step down as prime minister. Everyone has their view, including Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, who is no less than Master of the Queen's music. He recently described New Labour as "an utterly philistine government". He added: "Perhaps one should modify Descartes' dictum 'cogito, ergo sum' [I think, therefore I am] to 'consumo, ergo sum' [I consume, therefore I am]. That could well be the motto for our government." You would be hard pressed to disagree with this assessment.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

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