Leading UK contemporary visual arts institutions and art schools unite against proposed government cuts to arts education

Directors of BALTIC, Hayward Gallery, MiMA, Serpentine, Tate, The Slade, Central St. Martin’s and Goldsmiths and professional associations including NSEAD, are among over 300 signatories of an open letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson opposing 50 per cent cuts in subsidy support to arts subjects in higher education.

The letter is part of the nationwide #ArtIsEssential campaign to demonstrate the essential value of the visual arts

We are very grateful to the UK’s Contemporary Visual Arts Network (CVAN) who have brought together leaders from across the visual arts sector including arts institutions, art schools, galleries, professional associations and universities across the country, to issue an open letter to Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education asking him to revoke his proposed 50 percent cuts in subsidy support to arts subjects across higher education.

Following the closure of the consultation on this proposed move on Thursday 6th May, the Government has until mid-June to come to a decision on the future of funding for the arts in higher education – and the sector aims to remind them not only of the critical value of the arts to the UK’s economy, but the essential role they play in the long term cultural infrastructure, creative ambition and wellbeing of the nation. Working in partnership with the UK’s Visual Arts Alliance (VAA) and London Art School Alliance (LASA) to galvanise the sector in their united response, the CVAN’s open letter emphasises that art is essential to the growth of the country.

Signed by senior figures, Including Michele Gregson, general secretary NSEAD, representing the combined network of the UK’s contemporary visual arts institutions from Serpentine and Tate to MiMA and the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and higher education institutions including the Slade School of Fine Art, UAL Central St. Martin’s and Goldsmiths; the letter highlights the substantial economic impact of the UK’s creative industries, commenting: 

This proposal will detract from one of the UK’s fastest-growing economies. The Creatives Industries contributed £116bn in GVA in 2019 and supports 1 in every 16 jobs. This success has been built upon the UK’s world leading arts education and its entrepreneurial graduates - 65% of employees in the creative sector have a degree, evidencing the value of the universities and schools of art.” 

The London Art School Alliance also highlight the impact of removing London weighting from current subsidies for higher education in the arts.

Looking at the long term impact of the short term financial gains made through the proposed cuts to university arts courses, the VAA explains: 

The current proposal may limit the availability and accessibility of places on arts courses and result in fewer courses being offered. This will have a detrimental impact on our ability to retain our world leading position, attract inward investment through our cultural capital and our share of the global art market... The knock-on effect would be less skilled workers in the creative industries, reduction in investment for cultural regeneration; and decreased health and wellbeing driven through place making agenda.”

Pointing to the crucial role a strong arts education plays in the future development of arts professionals, the letter continues: 

Art education is fundamental to the lives of the next generation of artists. As professionals in the arts we use the process of going to university as a way to learn, to network, to grow and experience the arts as a career.”

Meanwhile, considering the importance of interdisciplinary thinking and collaboration, the Visual Arts Alliance highlights:

 ‘Artists are learning about art so they can see and engage with the world in a new and exciting way. They collaborate with scientists, engineers, new technologies, the NHS. Art positively contributes to wider society and not just the economy, it has the power to bring communities together, which we have all seen throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.’

This open letter builds on the Contemporary Visual Arts Network’s #ArtIsEssential campaign to demonstrate the essential value of the visual arts to the economic, cultural and mental health of the nation through a social media initiative. The campaign aims to raise support and visibility for the industry ahead of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review this autumn setting out the budget allocation for the cultural industry for the next three years. The next phase of this activity will be a Digital March held on the10th June, in which creatives across the country are invited to create a placard in any medium sharing their one ask, hope or need that they want the Government to hear. These messages will be shared across social media on the 10th June, helping to raise visibility for the arts as a connected network across the UK and to share stories of the role the arts play on an individual level across the UK.

Read the letter to Gavin Williamson here

Find out more about the #ArtIs Essential campaign and how you can join the digital march here