Arts sector in €200m Brexit black hole
Doesn’t it feel good to set €184m alight and take back control with £7m worth of Great British Cash? Well, not for the UK’s arts sector, because, as revealed in exclusive UKTBC research published in the Independent Wednesday, Brexit caused the UK to miss out on hundreds of millions in arts funding from the EU’s flagship cultural development programme.
To top the whole farce off, Creative Europe is not limited to EU members, and the Government rejected an offer to remain part of the scheme. The UK was subsequently shut out of the programme’s 2021-27 cycle, meaning we miss out on our slice of a budget increase of nearly €1bn.
The only crumb the Government has offered up to replace this money, the Global Screen Fund, doled out just £7m in its first year. Reports were that Jacob Rees-Mogg was on standby to make another tone deaf intervention about how much Brexit will benefit artists in 50 years before the Government offered up its standard spin.
A couple of weeks later, I found myself heading back to New York. I decided to book myself onto a tour of the building. My office is in Midtown Manhattan and the UN is only a few blocks east, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity. An adult ticket costs $22 plus admin and booking fees, which seemed reasonable. As they only operate on weekdays during normal working hours, I chose the last one of the week: Friday at 4:45pm.
I didn’t check the map in any detail and figured I would work out where to go when I got there. I meandered my way over to the East River on a gorgeously sunny afternoon.
I’d been intrigued by the building ever since I saw it in Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, filmed in 1959. To me it had always looked both beautiful and functional.
Old films amuse me when they show how innocent the times were. In the movie, Cary Grant arrives by taxi and bolts up the stairs to the entrance. These days the premises is heavily militarised, with fences and guards separating the plaza from the world outside.
A friendly guard at the main entrance told me that the the Visitor Centre is located right across the street. I crossed over to find a grumpy security guard, who checked my ticket at the door and gruffly told me where to go. As well as my ticket, they needed to see my COVID-19 vaccination records and proof of ID. They then took a quick photo, which was printed out a sticky badge that I would wear for the duration of the trip. I now had to go back over the street again.
Once I got into the main entrance I had to navigate some airport security-style checks, with my bags being x-rayed and my boding being put through a metal detector. The whole place was quiet, with only two of us in the security zone. I’m guessing that the facility is equipped to deal with a busy day when the General Assembly is in session, and is a little overkill for a random late Friday afternoon. A couple of minutes later, I was in.
Throughout the UN there are numerous artworks, gifts from individuals and nations to the organisation. As you wander to the terrace in front of the entrance you are immediately in front of two iconic pieces: Sphere Within a Sphere by Arnaldo Pomodoro, symbolising “the emergence of a new world from the old”, and Non-Violence by Carl Frederk Reutersward, inspired by the murder of John Lennon. Someone was recording a speech or piece of dialogue in front of Non-Violence, filmed by someone on their smartphone.
There was much more art inside. The first piece you encounter is a life-size statue of Nelson Mandela, gifted by the Republic of South Africa:
A little further in are a series of silk portraits of the previous Secretary-Generals, gifted by Iran:
We also got to see a mosaic called The Golden Rule, based on a painting by American artist Norman Rockwell. The piece features the phrase ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. As we looked at it, our guide said that we share universal values that we are all the same; I couldn’t help think of the things going on around the world which show that this isn’t always true.
The ticket had advised to be at the UN an hour before my scheduled tour. As I had made it through the registration and security processes so quickly, I found that I could just walk into an earlier one than I had planned. They all leave from a central tour desk. The tour operator validated my ticket, gave me another sticker to say that I had been checked and told me to wait for the next English-language tour to start.
The tour itself was quite something. I had expected the visit to be interesting, but hadn’t anticipated that it would be so moving.
Our first visit was to the Security Council Chamber. Our excellent Ecuadorean guide spoke about the history, structure, function and even the artwork of the Chamber before inviting us to take photos. It felt strange to be in a place that I have seen so many times on television over the years, thinking about all of the debates and decisions that have happened here.
The draperies and wall coverings in the Chamber were designed by Norway’s Else Poulsson, “showing the anchor of faith, the growing wheat of hope and the heart of charity.”
Next up was the Trusteeship Council, originally established to promote and support colonies moving towards self-government or independence. According to the UN’s website, “The aims of the Trusteeship System have been fulfilled to the extent that all Trust Territories have attained self-government or independence, either as separate States or by joining neighbouring independent countries.” This hasn’t stopped the business of the Council, and we were fortunate to be able to see a session in progress.
We then popped into the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Chamber, recognisable by the beautiful 1950s-style orange and white curtain called Dialogos, designed by painter Ann Edholm. It’s actually the third design to have graced the Chamber since it opened in 1952.
Our guide gave us an interesting fact about the chamber. From Wikipedia:
The pipes and ducts in the ceiling above the public gallery were deliberately left exposed; the architect believed that anything useful could be left uncovered. The “unfinished” ceiling is a symbolic reminder that the economic and social work of the United Nations is never finished; there will always be something more that can be done to improve living conditions for the world’s people.
As well as the artworks, various walls throughout the building are home to informational displays relating to the work of the UN. I wondered whether the politicians that came to this place for meetings ever stopped to look and consider these pieces. There is a wall of artwork showing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, another showing where the UN is currently undertaking peacekeeping and/or humanitarian operations, an illustration of global military expenditure versus development and disarmament, and a summary of the UN’s response to the Holocaust.
Wandering around the building we got to see some wonderful unique views New York, including a new angle on the Chrysler Building that I had never seen before along with a new perspective on the East River.
Our final stop on the tour was the General Assembly hall. It’s a beautiful room which looks even more stunning in real life. It was interesting to learn that the seating plan is put together for each session by drawing lots to see who will occupy the first seat, with all of the countries then being seated in alphabetical order based on their English names.
At the end of the tour there is an opportunity to visit the United Nations gift shop. It’s a strange place, with a small selection of arts and crafts from around the world. The UK was represented by a cheap-looking tea set. There were also some garish, gigantic, trophy-like vases that were priced at thousands of dollars. Apparently, and somewhat unbelievably, they sell these big pieces on a regular basis. All of the money goes back into funding the organisation.
Wandering around the building reminded me of being at my University, which was first constructed in the 1960s. Big, airy rooms, council chambers like lecture theatres and artworks everywhere. It felt familiar, in a good way.
Visiting the UN was a great way to spend an hour. It’s a beautiful building for an incredibly aspirational organisation, filled with inspiring things.
David Allen Green’s blog post today seems to agree.
Perhaps – like a policy equivalent to a market adjustment – a new group of politicians will now emerge to supply the policy seriousness that is now demanded.
This would be like how in many wars, new worldly commanders come to the fore to replace the clumsy peacetime generals who make the initial mistakes.
But unless we soon have a generation of politicians that have the measure of the practical problems facing the United Kingdom then there can only be more chaos and crisis-management, instead of planning, thought and policy.
Although I’m now five months into new routines and a new way of life, I’ve been finding that my anxiety level has been creeping back up during the summer. The vast majority of my friends and family seem to have gone back to normal, pretty much giving up on social distancing. I feel that I want to shout out loud that there is still a pandemic on — the phrase that keeps coming back to me is the one uttered by Clark Griswold in the original National Lampoon’s Vacation when his family appeal to him to give up on their road trip to Wallyworld. “I think you’re all ****** in the head!” I understand the massive desire to get back to some kind of normality, I just don’t agree with taking the risks. I know that because of this, people think I am being ridiculous.
“You’re unlikely to get sick from it as you are relatively young and fit.” Yes, thankfully that’s true. But there’s a chance I could get it and be one of the unlucky ones for whom it has serious implications. The idea of having ‘long COVID’ doesn’t sound good either. And then, even if I caught it and had no symptoms at all, I could easily spread it to anyone else I come in contact with.
“I think it’s ok to sit in a restaurant as long as they have the windows open.” Yes, airflow reduces the risk, but why take the risk in the first place? Is it worth it? This is a highly contagious airborne virus; you need to take your mask off to eat, and you’ll be sitting close to your friends at the same table and potentially exposing yourself unnecessarily to the virus over a number of hours.
“There are lots of other things out there that you could get, or could happen, that could kill you.” That’s true, but there’s not many of those that we end up shutting down half of the world for because of the potential harm that they bring.
The more that people I know go back to normal, the less I want to see them, as I don’t trust that they have been careful in managing their own risk. I’m currently not prepared to sit in a restaurant indoors, visit my friends or family in their homes or have visitors to our house where they would spend their time inside. It has been difficult at times over the past few weeks where even those of us living under the same roof have had different opinions about the risks, but we’re managing our way through it.
Perhaps my anxiety partly comes from getting so wrapped up in following politics over the past half decade or so. I am deeply distrustful of our government and the people around them. I’m highly sceptical that they have our best interests at heart, or are competent enough to do a good job even if they did. Managing a pandemic at a government level must be unimaginably complex, and our collection of ministers are second-rate at best. I know that I have to take complete personal responsibility for myself.
“Look at the case numbers in the UK though, they are flat.” That’s been true for the past few weeks, but they are on the rise again. Have we ever had a good test and trace regime that we can rely on here in the UK? Would the government tell us the truth if the numbers were not good? We know that there is probably a two-week lag time between exposure and developing symptoms or becoming contagious yourself, so who knows how many cases are really out there.
I am in an extremely privileged and fortunate position of having a very caring employer who has allowed us to work from home since mid-March. We are unlikely to be asked to go back to the office any time soon. I know that for a lot of people things haven’t stopped or changed during this whole pandemic — they have had to get out to work, my wife included — and I am in awe of them. I also understand that we are social creatures and there is a need for us to meet and connect with each other. I just don’t understand why people would take unnecessary risks such as dining in restaurants with friends or meeting in each other’s houses when there’s no need to.
This weekend my wife and I took a rare walk into town together to buy a coffee. As soon as we got anywhere near other people I put my mask on and didn’t take it off until we were almost home, well clear of everyone else. Maciej Ceglowski’s post from back in April, called Let’s All Wear A Mask, is the kind of logical argument that speaks to me as he outlines his case brilliantly. But it’s clear from my stroll around town that masks are generally seen as an inconvenience and only worn for going into shops, if at all.
I am trying to check and question myself. Sometimes I feel like I’m probably the one in the wrong as everyone else seems to be taking it easy with a relaxed attitude to the risks, but then I just work through the logic again and find myself right back at the start.
- 2019 UK General Election Tactical Voting Guide (Jon Worth Euroblog) — a comprehensive written analysis
- Compare The Tacticals (Live From Brexit) — aggregates the views of all of the main tactical voting websites
I live in the constituency of South West Hertfordshire, which in usual times means that my vote doesn’t have any impact at all. Since the constituency was created in 1950, the Conservative Party have always had at least 40% of the vote, and usually over 50%, guaranteeing them a seat in parliament. Typically, nobody in the media pays our constituency any attention as it is always clear who will be elected. What’s interesting for the upcoming election is that our most recent MP, former government minister David Gauke, has ‘lost the whip’ and is now running as an independent against a new Conservative candidate. In normal times my vote wouldn’t count but in this situation it may do.
If the constituency is filled with a majority of people who will vote Conservative no matter who the candidate is, then the situation is normal and my vote is irrelevant. However, if David Gauke has enough sway over the usual Conservative voters and they are split down the middle between Gauke and the Conservative candidate, then the other parties may have an opportunity. But…do I then vote for David Gauke to boost the chances of a split vote, or do I vote for a party that I actually want to be elected?
As much of a fun intellectual puzzle as this sounds, I agree with Matt Ballantine’s blog post yesterday on how crazy it all is.
Your vote, for most people, doesn’t really count if you simply vote for the candidate that you think best represents your views. So increasingly people will vote tactically to try to elect the least bad candidate. Electoral campaigns and manifesto pledges, therefore, follow the votes.
Tactical voting sites, if they have an impact, will merely amplify these problems, and now we have to stick an aggregation layer over the top of those to get an average of the least bad candidate assessment, depending on your view, in any particular constituency.
This is madness. The problem is our electoral system and the party system. And technology and data will, if anything, make this worse until at some point the underlying systems are addressed (which won’t be done for as long as the two major parties continue to believe that they can wield absolute power).
I have a postal vote and usually get it sent off early, historically voting for the Liberal Democrats or Green Party depending on how I felt at the time. I now feel that I need to cling onto my ballot paper until the last possible moment, checking the notoriously unreliable local polling data, before deciding which way to go. If a lot of people are doing something similar, it feels like we have the prisoner’s dilemma writ large, with my choice being dependent on everyone else’s choices, none of which I can know in advance. It really shouldn’t be this complicated, but it is.