By SHANA BETH MASON, Aug. 2016
I’m not a politician. I loathe mentioning politics of any fashion; this has long been my impetus for entering and maintaining a career in the arts. Surely there is some ideological or physical refuge from the stinging barbs, the blatant nepotism, or the shameless marginalisation of those not within the circles of both intellectual and fiscal elite?
Oh wait, that’s the art world, isn’t it…?
I had been away from my work as an arts critic for six months in lieu of a film project in London; I was so immersed, that even if I encountered a Facebook update or tweet from one of my many colleagues or friends in the art world, I sneered with disdain. But getting back into the fold, it pains me to know that my already “endangered species” status as an artist (in some guise) is now fully threatened by the rapidly shifting political climate here in Britain, soon-to-be the “rest of the West.”
“Brexit”, termed as the political movement to incite Great Britain (including Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) to “exit” from its already loose ties to the European Union, was triggered irreversibly by a publicly-held referendum on June 23rd. David Cameron, who has been Prime Minister since 2006, proposed the vote himself and gambled his premiership on a seemingly foolproof result of a “Remain” vote. He exited 10 Downing Street, making way for Britain’s second female Prime Minister, Theresa May. In the process, politicians that had relentlessly pushed for Brexit (against the strident advice of a slew of academics, scholars and international leaders) became scarecrows; once the vote was decided, they were either sacked from their posts or simply withered away.
So what does this have to do with art? I’ve lived in London on and off for a decade. Certain traits of cultural life in Britain that I have encountered are rarely, if ever, duplicated elsewhere. Among them: free admission to museums, city council grants for artists and art projects as required spending by local governments, and possibly the only country in the world that hosts both a successful juried international arts biennial (in Liverpool) and a powerhouse commercial art fair (Frieze London/Frieze Masters) under one roof. Over the last decade, austerity cuts to the national budget have jeopardised the threadbare funds given to private and public arts bodies in Britain, with many young practitioners and academics shifting to continental Europe to seek both cheap accommodation and increased professional exposure. Ironic, that emerging visual art and its creators had already begun a Brexit before Brexit.
It’s unclear how the immediate political/economic fallout from Brexit will directly affect the arts in Britain, but a logical ripple effect would be a lessening of cooperation between European arts patrons, state-run programmes and British arts-funding recipients. This is because new trade deals and more complex bureaucratic procedures will likely hinder an artist’s capability to embark on a cooperative residency, for example, or to sell work in Europe, as there will be more than a few sheets of paper to file before their money actually reaches them. Already-strained government funding will now have to be pushed towards stabilising the larger economic structure and, ostensibly, towards the forthcoming salaries of politicians about to engage in years of sticky negotiations of inter-continental trade agreements and the movement of Europeans and Britons to and fro.
These are, in effect, very broad observations from a very confused observer. What I would venture, though, is that life for an artist in Britain is about to get even more constrained, more complicated than ever. WM
Shana Beth Mason is a critic based in London, UK. Contributions include Art in America, ArtVoices Magazine, FlashArt International, InstallationMag (Los Angeles), Kunstforum.as (Oslo), The Brooklyn Rail, The Miami Rail, SFAQ, and thisistomorrow.info (London).
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