Equity has called for a radical overhaul of UK arts and culture, insisting that government spending on the industry match the European average and arguing for a regional funding structure independent of the Arts Council.
Performance for All – Arts Policy 2019 is a blueprint that brings all of the union’s aspirations for the sector together in one place.
Equity describes the policy as one that aims to “promote sustainable, optimistic and fulfilling careers” for its members and other arts workers. To achieve this, it claims a “radical overhaul of UK arts and culture is needed”.
The document calls for:
The union plans to rally its members and local branches to initiate conversations with politicians, policymakers, local authorities and theatre companies about its proposals.
Assistant general secretary Stephen Spence said raising government funding for the arts from the current level of 0.3% of GDP to 0.5% would mark a “very significant increase in funding”.
According to Equity’s policy document, the UK’s arts spend per head of population comes to around £31, compared with £131 in Germany and £132 in France.
“Some say our aim is utopian. But apparently there was a bus going round that was saying how much we would save if we left Europe. Even if that was not true, the government must have some idea what it will be doing with resources and we want arts and culture to be further up its priorities,” Spence said.
“We don’t want all the money going to defence or the railways – though we are happy for people to have their fair share. But some of it should come back to us. There is a sense that the industry generates so much and yet the returns we get are so low,” he added.
He described the document as a “discussion starter” and one that painted a picture of how arts and culture would look if “everything happened the way we wanted it to”.
“Creativity is not an add-on and in the austerity years there is more of a sense of it being a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘must have’. It won’t surprise you to know we don’t think that is correct,” he said.
Regarding regional funding, Equity is calling for a devolved and “autonomous” regional funding structure. It said it would like to see a new version of old regional arts boards – under the new name of Regional Culture Councils – and that these should liaise with local authorities about spending in each area.
It added that advisory bodies should be established to work with these councils – comprising trade unionists, practitioners and local residents. It said arts councils should be “reconstituted with different structures”, with a “facilitating rather than controlling role”.
In addition, the union wants to see workers – such as actors and directors – included on company boards.
“We want to see more engagement of the workforce in the structure of a company. Could there not be worker representation on the board of Netflix, for example? We think it’s a good thing. They don’t understand that the people without whose labour not a single wheel would turn are often not on those boards,” Spence said.
The policy also calls for an increase to per capita spent outside London, the living wage to be the minimum paid for all jobs, and an increase in the number of productions made regionally. In addition, it demands making local arts funding statutory, cheaper rehearsal spaces and giving variety and circus greater recognition in the UK.