IN 2016 I WAS HONOURED TO BE ASKED TO SPEAK AT THE LAUNCH OF THE ARTIST'S UNION OF ENGLAND:
Figures announced by Ed Vaizey MP in May of this year tell us that the UK’s creative industries are now worth over £84 Billion per year to the UK economy. (Gov.uk). That is 8 or 9 times the value of our arms industry exports and I would say a far more valuable export to the world too. The various Arts Councils in the UK have had about £17 million worth of cuts from the government since 2010, that is a relatively small amount of money that means a lot to the Arts and it does seem rather mean and counterproductive when you consider what that £84 Billion does for our GDP doesnt it? For the brief hour that we spend in this room in the mother of parliaments the Arts will have made £9.5 million for our country.
Of course we all know that the value of the Arts goes far beyond its economic value, it is the lifeblood of our culture and also of our understanding of and our communication with the world around us. The importance of the establishment of the Artists Union of England cannot be underestimated; the painters, printers and sculptors that it represents are some of the most overlooked group of workers in this overlooked sector.
The portrayal of the fine artist as a disturbed genius freezing in an attic for her art is not always helpful to us. Quite frankly none of us want to freeze in an attic, we don’t want hand outs either but we do want our county’s government to recognise that fine art is an economic activity that requires certain conditions for it to flourish and thereby contribute to our countries wealth.
If you compare an emerging artist to a business start up; for example opening a sweet shop, one might expect that the business plan would allow 6 months for the shop to start to break even then perhaps in 12 months to become a viable business. Well art does not work that way, emerging artists can take years before they break even. We are used to earning well below the minimum wage and sometimes earning nothing at all. Fine artists are often asked to do work pro bono which they can ill afford. When they do get help it is often in the form of the offer of unsafe premises as studio space to help a landlord get a reduction in business rates for the otherwise empty property.
At last we have our own union: Our job now is to wake our politicians up to the fact that the economy has to work for us too: I am not talking just about reversing cuts to the Arts Council, I would like to see us negotiate new ways to enable fine artists round the country such as the development of community art hubs. We have a lot to do fellow AUE members and I do hope that both Conservative and Labour MPs will listen to us and work with us to develop suitable policies for the benefit of all.