Brexit & art: Why the art world ‘must become more international’

19th July 2017

Nicholas Serota, head of Arts Council England, and the V&A director Tristram Hunt are calling for artists and performers to be protected following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU). 

Speaking at a Creative Industries Federation conference earlier this month, the pair talked about the risk of Britain becoming “irrelevant to a changing world” if it decided to look the other way on the free movement of artistic talent from overseas.

Mr Hunt (also a former Labour MP) stated that his was deeply worried about the impact Brexit could have on the single European cultural market. 

Regardless of the outcomes of the EU referendum negotiations, when it comes to the seamless movement of artists, exhibitions and creative work in and out of the UK, Mr Serota said it was crucial to maintain the current conditions that work well while also making the art world more international. This could be done by extending the conditions globally and allowing international artists to visit the UK for short working visits, he argued. 

Mr Hunt said that the referendum reminds us of how valuable international work and exchange has become for the quality, diversity and strength of our national culture. 

“A two-way flow of talent is crucial to the arts in Britain,” commented Mr Serota. “It is the interaction of forces that has made British culture so rich and increasingly complex.

“We owe much of how we see ourselves – especially our romantic side – to the perspective of incomers. Where would the visual arts in this country be without the contribution made by artists like Frank Auerbach and Lucian Freud in one generation, Chris Ofili, Mona Hatoum or John Akomfrah in another?”

The Art Council leader also stressed that at a time when diversity is at last becoming a priority across the many areas of the arts, rejecting those outside of Britain could then diminish efforts to make the cultural sector more representative. 

He stated that cultures and communities that cut themselves off from the world can become exquisite, “like a rare breed of animal”. Nevertheless, they also start to stagnate and become irrelevant to the ever-changing world around them. 

In order to prevent the isolating effects of the referendum, Mr Serota revealed that Arts Council England is going to create a Creative Practitioners Fund for artists and creatives so that they can experience the value of working abroad. The fund will invest in the work of individuals while also offering support for research and development. 

According to Arts Professional, the fund will be significant and open to practitioners in the wider creative industries, as an acknowledgement of how talent flows between them. 

Mr Hunt told the Guardian: “1.6 million people have seen our David Bowie exhibition and that presents a very different story of Britain than they are going to get from Downton Abbey.

“We see it as our post-Brexit responsibilities to make sure we don’t lose any of that ambition and energy. We are going to be looking even more to make sure our exhibitions have a global footprint.”

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