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Brexit: coming to a theatre near you?

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There’s been plenty of talk about what Brexit would mean for trade, freedom of movement and the economic impact on Britain, but by leaving the EU, we could potentially threaten the reputation of London as a cultural capital of the world. Quitting the EU may affect London’s ability to notably contribute to the international arts scene, which would be harmful to the British public in more ways than one.

The managing director of the Barbican centre, Sir Nicolas Kenyon, posited that free movement of Labour between European countries had aided its success. In fact, the Barbican, being one of the largest performing art centres in Europe, has itself benefitted from freedom of movement, with the Greek tragedy, Antigone, being one of its most successful productions. While this may seem like an odd choice for promoting Britain remaining in Europe, this classical play allowed for an international presence with the famous French actress Juliette Binoche performing the title role. Additionally, it allowed the lauded Belgian director Ivo van Hove to work with Dutch theatre company Toneelgroep Amsterdam, and it was co-produced with theatres and festivals in Paris, Luxembourg, Recklinghausen and Edinburgh.

London’s position as a cultural hub of Europe is essential for ensuring the survival of the Arts in Britain. 

As Kenyon has stated: “it was a truly European production, a model of co-operation” and this “commissioning model with venues across Europe gives British audiences opportunities to experience first-hand the work of some of the finest artists in the world, while also gaining new insights into classic texts”. London’s position as a cultural hub of Europe is essential for ensuring the survival of the Arts in Britain, especially in light of the fact that art establishments are struggling to manage the economic costs of running in a country that doesn’t always seem to value the arts. After all, when was the last time that you went to see a play or an art exhibition? In fact, from my own personal experience, I’ve found that I’m more likely to be asked about the latest art event that I’ve attended while working in Paris than in all my time in England.

Outside of London, towns and cities across the UK have also benefited from EU investments. 

In addition, it’s not only capital cities that benefit from the free movement of labour that makes collaboration easier by allowing artists and production teams to tour between countries without the issue of navigating individual bureaucracies. Outside of London, towns and cities across the UK have also benefited from EU investments. In 2008, Liverpool was the European Capital of Culture and the UK is the base for the European Union Youth Orchestra. It’s possible that lessening this freedom of movement would not only damage London as a cultural capital, but the efforts of foreign artists to work in England would only be concentrated on London, therefore leaving the other cities bereft. There is already too much of an influx of people, opportunities and so on, into London. An increase seems unsustainable. Therefore, this could have consequences for London itself as well as the economic and cultural welfare of other towns and cities.

Nevertheless, the promotion of cultural tourism encourages the exchange of ideas between those who attend the arts, those who currently create it and those who will make up the future generations of artists. London’s deputy mayor for education and culture, Munira Mirza, has argued that Brexit would make the arts: “less white, less Eurocentric” and “more open to the world”, adding that too many people in the arts were worried about being associated with “braying old fogies” to publicly back the anti-EU campaign.

The potential to forge links with other foreign countries will not amount to anything if Britain has not truly made room for the voices of those on its own doorstep.

However, here he may have missed an important issue. While the arts do need to be: “less white, less Eurocentric”, there have been people of colour in European countries like England for a significant amount of time. The potential to forge links with other foreign countries will not amount to anything if Britain has not truly made room for the voices of those on its own doorstep.

It is undeniable that the economic welfare of Britain is important, but its cultural richness is inextricably linked with this wellbeing. Also, while I may be biased as an Arts student, the economic health of our country may be crucial but how can we truly enjoy it if we are denying ourselves a truly enriching cultural life?

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