Massive gulf in culture funding needs changing, says Wigan MP
Lisa Nandy said urgent change is needed after the data revealed in Parliament shows how every coalfield community put together receives a fraction of the cash for culture that London gets.
Related: Full steam ahead for arts hub with regional fundingThe Arts Council England has spent just £1 in ex-mining areas over the past 10 years for every £8 it has spent in the capital.
Almost £4.2bn was ploughed into London’s cultural scene between 2007 and 2017, compared to £497m in the whole of the former coalfield communities.
Ms Nandy is now calling for a major re-think to ensure the benefits of the arts and the opportunities it provides are available to young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds as well as their privileged peers.
A quick glance at the Arts Council funding figures make for grim reading if you are a northern culture lover.
Ms Nandy singled out the borough of Islington, home to the constituency of her Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, for particular attention as it received £332m alone in the decade-long period.
And analysis of recent spending decisions shows Wigan is still receiving crumbs from the national funding table compared to the vast sums spent on the capital’s culture portfolio.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) website shows only a few projects in the borough funded by Arts Council England in 2017.
Astley Youth Band received £9,974, Wigan Steam CIC got £14,700 and Jessica McDonagh received £5,977 for her project Car Park King,
By contrast Arts Council England have funded dozens of projects in Islington ranging from Indian culture to experimental theatre to puppetry events to dance workshops and exhibitions.
The borough is also home to the world-famous Sadler’s Wells dance venue and a host of top-flight ensembles based there, including the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the London Sinfonietta, receive large amounts of backing as National Portfolio Organisations.
Ms Nandy outlined the ways the arts and culture can help people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
She said: “The inequality in arts funding means too many young people growing up in towns are being denied important experiences like visiting a theatre or museum.
“With their budgets already stretched to breaking point, many of our schools are increasingly reluctant to spend already limited resources on trips to arts and culture activities.
“The cost of travel, invariably to the nearest large town or city where these projects are funded, poses an additional barrier for people outside cities to experience the arts.
“If we are serious about tackling the inequality in arts funding, then long-neglected communities in towns and rural areas must see their fair share of arts and culture investment.
“Working with organisations like the Arts Council in collaboration with local stakeholders, we can ensure every young person is given an equal opportunity to enjoy, experience and benefit from the arts.”
There is some evidence in recent months that projects such as The Old Courts in Wigan are starting to receive national attention, with several Arts Council England luminaries including chief executive Darren Henley coming to look at the work of the Crawford Street community culture hub.
However, data on artistic spending shows how far there still is to go if ex-mining towns like Wigan are ever to match hotspots for music, theatre and dance such as Islington and other London boroughs.