Small shopkeepers at risk

Happy New Year to all.

Having said that, I’m afraid I’m not going to follow it up with anything particularly cheery. Just call me Lady Eeyore.

I’ve just been reading more gloomy news about the arts and heritage sector – this time in the Independent on Sunday (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/museums-hit-by-perfect-financial-storm-1855938.html). According to the article, “Nearly 40 institutions are under threat or have already closed as lottery funding bonanza ends and credit crunch bites”. There are two issues here.

The first is that no matter how enthusiastically the end of the recession is trumpeted over the coming weeks – and it will be – the arts and heritage sector will lag behind by many months, if not years. Finance for the arts follows on from prosperity, and, whatever any of us can say about the value of the arts to the economy, nobody is going to be handing out cash until they are sure their own balance sheets are looking healthy enough to stand the strain.

Secondly, no matter how enthusiastically commentators rave about the strengths of the arts and heritage sector in the UK – and they will – the picture for some is far gloomier than most people working for a major newspaper is able to perceive. The blaze of glory that is the Tate and the runaway success of the National Theatre will always obscure the majority of arts organisations, just as Tesco outshines the corner shop. (Or in our case, takes over the corner shop, but that’s another story.) Large-scale theatre and musicals are doing well, but small-scale and touring companies generally aren’t – they’re losing out to lucrative hirings of local venues and fears over audience numbers. The flagship museums for which a dip in income means a temporary belt-tightening exercise are going to do better than the little town museums for which a similar event means annihilation.

This is actually more of a problem for the museums sector than perhaps any other. If a theatre company closes, another will spring up. Once a museum is closed, and perhaps its collection dispersed, opening it again would seem a huge endeavour. (Of course, the human costs of both can be similar.) The perception seems to be that as long as the big ‘uns keep going, we can rebuild everything else at will. But how will this happen? What is our Plan B? I suspect there ain’t one. We ought to think again.

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Published in: on January 4, 2010 at 15:34  Leave a Comment  

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