Geldof is wrong – the arts can thrive af­ter Brexit

The Sunday Telegraph - - Arts -

What lies ahead for the arts and cul­ture in­dus­tries? Disas­ter or ex­cit­ing new hori­zons? In the past week, we’ve had two very dif­fer­ent views of that ques­tion. The open let­ter from Bob Geldof, signed by a num­ber of wor­thies in the mu­si­cal world from Si­mon Rat­tle to Sting, sees only disas­ter, in the shape of Brexit. Geldof de­clares that, when it comes to mu­sic, “Bri­tain does still rule the waves. Why? Be­cause we are bril­liant at it. It reaches out, all in­clu­sive, and em­braces every­one… That is proper Global Bri­tain.”

Well that’s a bit over­stated, but it’s good to see pa­tri­o­tism burn­ing bright in the heart of a Re­mainer. And it’s true Bri­tain is the sec­ond big­gest ex­porter of mu­sic, af­ter the US. And, yet, Sir Bob thinks that all this is in dan­ger of van­ish­ing in a puff of smoke. He says that tour­ing, sales, roy­alty col­la­tion and copy­right leg­is­la­tion will all be neg­a­tively af­fected by

Brexit, and then leaps to this apoc­a­lyp­tic con­clu­sion: “We have de­cided to put our­selves in a self-made cul­tural jail!” What are we to make of this trea­tise? Geldof makes some valid points. There are very real prac­ti­cal is­sues to be faced. The fall in the ex­change rate has al­ready had a neg­a­tive im­pact on tour­ing, though it has also made UK artists cheaper for for­eign pro­mot­ers (there’s al­ways a cloud and a sil­ver lin­ing in any change to the ex­change rate). But Geldof spoils his case by ex­ag­ger­a­tion, and hint­ing at dis­as­ters where none ex­ist. He tells us that 60per cent of all roy­alty rev­enue comes from within the EU. Well yes, and af­ter March 30 2019, the busi­ness of col­lect­ing and dis­tribut­ing roy­al­ties, in and out of the UK, will carry on ex­actly as be­fore. And there are no plans to change the pe­riod of copy­right leg­is­la­tion. Turn from Geldof ’s vi­sion of im­mi­nent catas­tro­phe to the lead­ers of Bri­tain’s cul­tural in­dus­tries, and you find a very dif­fer­ent pic­ture.

Last week, they held their an­nual sum­mit, at which the “B-word” was hardly men­tioned. In­stead, their fo­cus was on other press­ing is­sues within the cre­ative sec­tor of the UK econ­omy, a sec­tor which, it should never be for­got­ten, is worth more than oil and gas, life sciences and aero­space put to­gether. Sub­jects un­der dis­cus­sion in­cluded the role of rapidly chang­ing tech­nolo­gies, the fact of chang­ing pat­terns in the work­place, where around a third of all work­ers are free­lance, and prob­lems of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty and piracy. There were ses­sions dis­cussing ways Bri­tain could make bet­ter use of cul­ture as “soft” power, how cre­ative in­dus­tries can make cities more live­able and ef­fi­cient, how they can con­trib­ute to ur­ban de­sign and the con­ser­va­tion of the built and the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment.

What was strik­ing about the sum­mit was the sense of ad­ven­ture and pos­si­bil­ity. What’s strik­ing about Geldof ’s mis­sive is its lip-smack­ing gloom. He treats any prob­lem as a her­ald of disas­ter, rather than a chal­lenge to be faced. There’s also his glar­ing non se­quitur, of say­ing that to foster a sense of open, “Global Bri­tain” we have to con­tinue our cur­rent po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic ties with Europe, for­ever. But why should we priv­i­lege theatre com­pa­nies and or­ches­tras from Lyon over those from Cape Town or Mel­bourne or Minsk? You may say: be­cause we have an­cient cul­tural ties to western Europe.

But if those ties are strong, they will re­veal them­selves nat­u­rally in the choices made by au­di­ences and artists and pro­mot­ers; it’s not the busi­ness of govern­ment to en­force them, by mak­ing life easy for some and hard for oth­ers. Surely, what we want is an im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy that makes it pos­si­ble to wel­come tal­ented mu­si­cians and artists – as well as en­gi­neers and care work­ers – from any­where. It is un­doubt­edly true that when Brexit takes ef­fect, the arts will face prac­ti­cal and eco­nomic prob­lems when it comes to im­port­ing to and ex­port­ing from Europe. The pa­per­work in­volved in invit­ing an orches­tra from the EU takes one hour of ad­min­is­tra­tive labour; this could rise af­ter Brexit to the level of the Los An­ge­les Phil­har­monic, which takes 100 hours.

Even if Bri­tish artists and mu­si­cians vis­it­ing Europe can over­come visa is­sues, they will still have to pay up to 20per cent of their fees in so­cial se­cu­rity costs, from which they are, at present, ex­empt. For­tu­nately, the Cul­ture Sec­re­tary, Jeremy Wright, has made it clear that he is keenly aware of these is­sues, and is seek­ing to ad­dress them, for ex­am­ple, by low­er­ing the in­come thresh­old for long-term res­i­dence, which at £30,000 is far too high for the arts sec­tor. There are nu­mer­ous other is­sues to sort out, and time is short, but short­age of time has a won­der­ful way of con­cen­trat­ing minds.

It’s easy to see what lies be­hind Geldof ’s open let­ter. By paint­ing a pic­ture of im­mi­nent disas­ter, he’s adding his voice to the clam­our for a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum. It would be more pro­duc­tive, and cer­tainly more re­spon­si­ble, to see life for the arts af­ter Brexit as a chal­lenge, even – dare I say – as an ad­ven­ture. Isn’t that what the arts are sup­posed to be about?

Ties: the Leipzig Ge­wand­haus Orches­tra un­der the ba­ton of An­dris Nel­sons, above; Bob Geldof, be­low left

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