As the UK prepares to withdraw from the EU, Nick Awde suggests it is time to find a common language and unify the arts
In the UK, the performing arts have struggled to get to grips with Brexit. While organisations such as Creative Europe have outlined a plan, others have done little to prepare the industry for the rifts to come.
Post-referendum, the loudest voices have been those of Britain’s leading practitioners, declaring their shame at being British and that they’ll flee Europe where things are “better”. However, their red-carpet status means they’re unlikely to encounter the visa and work permit hurdles everyone else could face.
So, what about the others? A start is to respond to the rest of Europe by understanding both sides of the divide. UK theatre is open not only to Europe, but the whole world as a destination to train, teach and perform. Brits enjoy this same luxury across the continent. As skill sharing goes, it’s a vibrant ecosystem.
In fact the systems are so interlocked that they will thrive regardless of what borders, tariffs and visas may or may not be imposed. But this should be no excuse for complacency. To identify the challenges of Brexit to the performing arts, there are three areas to focus on.
First, is to understand the real situation of the arts across the Channel. As the arts prepares for further cuts to government funding and a possible threat to artistic freedom, the rest of Europe can relate.
The knives have long been out for the arts in Europe, accelerated by the endemic rise of right-wing, populist governments. In countries including Poland and Slovakia, shows and festivals that criticise the status quo or promote diversity trigger state-sanctioned clampdowns, at times accompanied by violence.
Even culturally proud nations like Sweden and Denmark have elected right-wing governments, which promptly imposed massive cuts. Though they have since voted for leftist, socially minded parties, the damage has already been done to their creative industries. This is something we can learn from.
The knives have long been out for the arts in Europe, accelerated by the endemic rise of right-wing, populist governments
Second, we need to appreciate Europe’s view of the UK. It’s an impressively positive one where, for all the country’s faults, it is seen to lead in areas such as diversity, political theatre, solo, immersive and applied theatre. It’s worth remembering that the UK offers performers a level of freedom of expression and safety that isn’t guaranteed in every European country.
This has made Britain the most partnered country in cross-nation, EU-funded arts projects – a crucial point the government needs to consider if it obstructs the EU’s access to UK talent.
Third, is to nurture fringe work. The UK’s festivals and venues are a key gathering point for European practitioners, and the model is a major export in return.
Fringe represents a lab for ideas, a platform for opinions and a meeting place for nations. The UK’s image as the mother of parliaments may be tarnished, but its fringe is an alternative people’s forum that seriously inspires artists all over Europe, where some countries view fringe as a subversive act. This is why it has provided some of the most convincing reactions to Brexit.
But reactions aren’t enough – solutions are needed. Everyone is in the same boat – there isn’t a ‘better’ side in the EU. It’s time to find a common language for the UK and the rest of Europe to unify the arts and create a single voice that all of Europe’s governments have to listen to.