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Bleak picture as cash for arts dries up

PUBLISHED: 11:25 23 May 2008 | UPDATED: 20:27 05 July 2010

TIGHTEN our belts and protect our assets, we're told - we're in for bumpy financial ride.

But more than 50 Waveney businesses are well aware that the infamous credit crunch has hit our arts community already!

Money is fast drying up.

TIGHTEN our belts and protect our assets, we're told - we're in for bumpy financial ride.

But more than 50 Waveney businesses are well aware that the infamous credit crunch has hit our arts community already!

Money is fast drying up.

Reports are somewhat varied as yet, but already many art galleries are struggling. This is not just my observation but revealed by gallery owners and the enterprising Green Pebble, the East Anglian art magazine which identified problems earlier this year.

All this might not be world-shattering news or importance to all but will actually matter to most if the wider local economy suffers. Many forget that the arts are very often businesses - known nowadays as the creative industries, healthy employers and one of the big UK earners, nationally and internationally. So arts are everyone's assets.

Locally it could be the Waveney-wide community which suffers if our creative businesses collapse, not just less art to be seen but potentially job loses, empty shops on every high street prompting a wider retail confidence collapse, fewer tourist attractions, less to go out to see and do, creative young people moving away from the district for better opportunities … the negatives are many, even if these worse case possibilities have yet to arrive.

Writing about money problems in the art world is difficult - the media seizes on headline and extreme stories: the annual Turner prize circus or staggering prices at big name auction houses (bought as investments and often better long-term value than football players). But most art finances are in a humbler and more approachable league.

In our more familiar world, if bills rise and money gets tight so called luxuries or non-essentials are the first to be cut from most people's budgets.

I now have a list of well over 50 commercial galleries in Waveney - plus occasional art festivals, shows and online ventures. Together, that is often considerable money changing hands.

But when buying works of art stops - or slows - then it's not only gallery owners who suffer: so do artists, framers, auction rooms, artists materials manufactures and distributors, brochure printers, website designers, cultural tourists and allied businesses.

Even the local authority loses out financially if premises close up shop and the business rates stop. There is always an inevitable negative chain reaction.

Ask most gallery owners “how's business?” The very diplomatic response tends to be: “Been better”.

And, sadly, there's another credit crunch casualty.

Ask any arts organisation - in whatever field - how keen most businesses are to sponsor events this year and … there probably won't be a polite answer.

Of necessity, many local arts significantly rely on sponsorship for funding - and, again often without realising it, so do most ticket buyers: sponsorship helps keep ticket prices down.

But business sponsorship is a very fickle arena: if the economic climate suddenly changes for the worse, like now, business generosity rapidly dries up - despite the kudos and tax breaks.

And that is already happening in Waveney even on comparatively small sums. But small donations from several sources rapidly add up to a useful total and the arts can make small sums go a long way.

The arts are for everybody and they are everybody's assets - they add wealth to every community. Losing valuables like arts opportunities are often irreplaceable. In troubled times we must protect all our valued assets.

Perhaps promoting the Waveney district as a thriving visual arts area makes business sense. Comparatively, Waveney has dynamic visual arts enterprise but doesn't shout about it. Perhaps now it needs to?

So is there a desire for a united Waveney-wide gallery owners support group? Or representatives from different established organisations in varying places, working together? United you stand, divided …

Let me know what's needed and let's work to preserve and develop those invaluable assets.

Andrew Kitchen can be contacted at Arts&heritage@waveney.gov.uk or write to Arts & Heritage, Town Hall, Lowestoft, NR32 1HS, telephone 01502 523397.

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