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Arts must do more than ever to champion cohesion post-Brexit, say cultural leaders

Rufus Norris. Photo: Paul Plews Rufus Norris. Photo: Paul Plews
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Britain’s cultural sector must work harder than ever to bring communities back together following the “short-sighted” decision to leave the European Union, leading arts figures have claimed.

Following the UK-wide referendum, in which 52% of voters chose to leave the EU, Britain’s cultural and creative industries fear the threat of reduced funding and depleted talent pools, as well as limited export opportunities.

Reacting to the outcome, National Theatre director Rufus Norris said the success of British theatre relied upon the “free exchange of ideas, talent and creativity”, and that the NT would “remain resolutely committed” to increasing collaboration across the UK, Europe and the rest of the world.

“It is also essential that the arts work even harder to give voice to all parts within society,” he said.

Actor and National Campaign for the Arts chair Samuel West and Creative Industries Federation chief executive John Kampfner claimed the importance of British culture in representing the country to the world would be greater than ever.

West added: “Now more than ever the arts need resources and support to allow us to play a role in bringing communities back together and to continue to fly the flag for British culture.”

The CIF announced it would host a series of events around the country to bring the sector together in addressing future challenges. The first of these will be in July.

Britain’s access to the €1.3 billion Creative Europe programme could now be in jeopardy, cutting off an important funding stream, while the ability to train in European institutions could be restricted. Issues such as visas for performers and creatives working across the continent will need to be addressed.

Access to EU markets could also come under threat as a result of Britain’s exit – the single market within the EU is the largest export market for the UK’s creative industries, totalling 56% of all overseas trade in the sector.

Theatre company Complicite, which regularly takes work abroad, issued a statement declaring that “half a century of collaboration and open borders [has been] crashed by fear and short-sightedness”.

It said Europe had been an integral part of its work and inspiration over the past 30 years.

“Let us hope that in the years to come our children and grandchildren have the strength to reverse this catastrophic decision,” it continued.

Elsewhere, choreographer Arlene Phillips said she was “devastated” by the referendum’s result, claiming Brexit would have a “massive impact” on the freedom of exchange for dancers, choreographers and teachers.

Alistair Spalding, artistic director of dance venue Sadler’s Wells, said the decision marked “a new chapter in our history”.

He said: “While the country redefines its position in the world in the next months and years, the significant role that the arts play in fostering empathy, understanding and tolerance of other views and cultures and building community cohesion will be more essential than it has ever been.”

The Society of London Theatre said it urged politicians to consider the impact on the creative industries during negotiations.

Charlotte Jones, chief executive of the Independent Theatre Council, said the result’s implications were not yet clear, but that she was “concerned on so many levels”.

“I genuinely mourn for the opportunities that have been lost for mature cooperation and partnership between countries that a reformed EU would have offered,” she said.

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