What the Brexit EU Referendum results could mean for the arts

cBREXIT EU scrabble

Like almost half of the UK yesterday morning, I was aghast, troubled, disgusted and angry to learn that the British public, in their wisdom, has voted for the UK to leave the European Union. There will be almost endless ramifications for both Britain and Europe for decades to come – but how will this affect writers and other artists?


1. Funding for the arts will be harder to obtain
Let’s face it, the attempt to secure arts funding from nepotistic organisations like the Arts Council is a pessimistic shot in the dark in any case. For two reasons, writers and artists will now have an even tougher time.

Firstly, the economic uncertainty of leaving the EU will plunge the UK economy into another recession, which already seemed inevitable as part of a predicted “double-dip” following the horrendous austerity in the wake of the 2008/9 crash (which incidentally resulted in plans for my second novel, signed off for publication by my publisher, being scrapped). The government has always been tight when it comes to funding the arts, but when times are tough and artists are most motivated to create, those opportunities will shrivel further.

Secondly, much of the arts funding available to artists is provided by the EU. We can probably say a regretful goodbye to any real help from the likes of the European Cultural Foundation, who despite their adoration of the arts and artists from around the world may have to limit their grants and other support to EU members only. Britain is European in the geological sense, but soon no longer in the political sense, and often that is what matters. According to WelcomeEurope.com, there are 62 funding bodies available for cultural projects, but only a fraction of these include the arts, and they will likely soon be withdrawn for British artists.

One of the biggest organisations, Creative Europe from the European Commission, replaced the European Union Cultural Programme in 2013 and was intended to last until 2020, but whether British artists will be able to continue to apply after the separation remains a mystery. I have contacted them for comment.

Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, has this to say: “The Art Fund is deeply concerned at the impact leaving the EU will have on culture in the UK, and particularly on its museums and galleries. At one level there is obviously now great financial uncertainty – the effect on European funding for the arts, for example – but quite as important is the potential effect on the spirit that drives a myriad of international partnerships in the arts.”

For more info on grants for writers, check out FundsForWriters.com.


2. We will lose the love of those who have helped our literature in the past
At the latest European Literature Festival, held in London April and June this year, author Kate Mosse pointed out that “the fundamental building blocks of this country you could say come from the nature of translation,” citing the Magna Carta, “written in Latin not translated into English until the middle of the 16th century”, and the King James Bible, which eventually appeared in English in 1611. “So all of us here, wherever we come from, have grown up with this sense of other voices, other languages, in our head. But sometimes we forget that.” Her 2005 bestseller, “Labyrinth”, has been translated into more than 37 languages.

It is a ridiculous stretch to think that novels written in European languages other than English might not get translated, but there are many projects that bring lesser-known non-English writers to the English audiences, and those UK citizens living and working in Europe may now have to face expensive and difficult visa processes to remain where they are if they wish to continue to work.

Source: The Guardian: “Kate Mosse speaks up for European literature in face of Brexit”.


3. Our most-loved artists and creative teams might be affected
The much-adored Game of Thrones may be in trouble, since it is partly filmed in the lovely landscapes of Northern Ireland. It has been speculated that HBO may lose its EU funding due the separation, however the studio has recently reported that this is unlikely to happen. HBO now gets funding from the UK for Game of Thrones, not from EU sources, so non-fans like me can continue to hear about that damned show for years to come.

However, Fortune states that the Referendum result could “discourage Hollywood studios and cable networks to film shows and movies in Britain, in part because the country would no longer have access to European subsidies”. The likes of Film4, which continues to make some incredible cinema, doesn’t rely on EU funding, but with austerity measures looming they may already be thinking about reducing their budget, which was only increased from £15m to £25m this February.


4. Artists will have more opportunity to build bridges – a step backwards
In a heartbreaking article from The Guardian yesterday, artists decry the sorry state of affairs that now blights the UK. Sensational pianist Stephen Hough, who has played on all the world’s greatest stages and released over 50 recordings of his classical performances, hits the nail on the head:

“Whether in or out of Europe, we will always need to be building – and repairing – bridges. Sometimes the arts can be the only way a connection can be made across turbulent waters.”

Actor and theatrical Artistic Director Barry Rutter, OBE adds, “For artists, it will only increase dynamism and creativity – hungry artists are always creative.”

Philip Pullman presented this scathing account of the causes of the Brexit separation, which at the very least evidences how trauma can inspire literary works, as well as being precisely damning and entertaining.

One of my personal reasons for voting Remain was the strong feeling that, as a global community, we should be striving for togetherness, not division, even if there are minor compromises. The pain of separation may have inspired the greatest art and literature of all time, but I would much rather that pain not be put into the world – by a vote.

–db


Added 30th June 2016 One of the Creative Europe desks kindly responded to my query with the following, which was to be expected:

“Thank you for your enquiry. Given the complexity of the issue and the number of partners involved, Creative Europe Desk UK are hoping to issue a statement later this week.”

Since there is still talk about a second referendum, and that the shambling remains of the British government have yet to initiate the ‘divorce’, there may be hope yet for creative souls across the UK and Europe.

–db


Added 3rd July 2016: I received a further replace from Creative Europe:

“You can find Creative Europe Desk UK’s statement on the Creative Europe and the impact of the UK’s EU referendum outcome on our website. The statement also contains contact details for any further enquiries you have about Creative Europe’s MEDIA and Culture sub-programmes.

You can also read Creative Scotland’s statement in response to the EU referendum result on the Creative Scotland website.”

–db


For further reading, see my follow-up from February 2017 here.

100 years of Bollywood – What desi fiction does right

Deepika Padukone passion

Deepika Padukone in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela

Bollywood recently celebrated its 100th year. Indian, Pakistani and Tamil has been close to my heart for a few years now: in 2012 I backpacked around India; some of my favourite people are Pakistani; and I spent a long and joyous time researching my (hopefully) upcoming novel Cycles of Udaipur. I’ve watched enough Bollywood films in the last few years to catch up with three decades of world cinema.

As the single most distinctive form of cinema, Bollywood is often a love-or-hate thing for British audiences. I live in Sheffield, one of the north’s most cosmopolitan cities, so our mainstream and indie cinemas draw in big crowds for their frequent showing of Asian films. I’m usually one of the very few white faces in such crowds, but I rarely feel such a buzz or sense of camaraderie than at those viewings.

So what can writers learn from Bollywood cinema?

Jodha Akbar passion

Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai in Jodha Akbar

If there’s one thing to define the “genre”, besides the spontaneous song-and-dance numbers and spangly productions, it is the emotional power that such films project. I know people who avoid Bollywood purely because each film is such an emotional rollercoaster. If I cry during a “filmi”, it’s probably because I’m watching Jodha Akbar (2008) or Ram-Leela (2013), or films like the lesser-known Raincoat (2004), each of which has a powerful emotional core that beats most dramatic films of the west hands down.

Jodha Akbar is a historical epic centering around the marriage of a Muslim conqueror and his Hindu lover. It is a story of love that transcends all barriers, much like the crux of Ram-Leela, a modern-day Hindustani Romeo and Juliet. Literature of course is no stranger to the themes of love, which has been explored in all its facets for thousands of years. But too many English-language novels neglect to dig deep enough into this fundamental emotion, shying away for fear of being too flowery in terms of prose. Is this a flaw of Western literature, or is it the right balance for our comparatively reserved culture?

Raincoat film passion

Ajay Devgan and Aishwarya Rai in Raincoat

Ram Leela passion

Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone in Ram-Leela

There is a reason that so many Bollywood films are musicals; the emotions at play are far too powerful to be contained. This is a statement that is arguably laughable, but there is a lot to learn from the unashamedly ebullient nature of desi films. British literature at its best is a cultural caricature: restrained, emotionally suffocated, bleak and dour. D.H.Lawrence, Martin Amis, Jeffrey Archer and John le Carré make a fortune of the misery of their characters, with only a rare few – unsurprisingly operating in the fringes of genre fiction – allow their natural brightness to shine through: the likes of Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Ruth Rendell.

I hopefully need not return to what I think of contemporary “romantic” fiction, all of which operates on the largely worthless scale between erotica and chick-lit.

The blandness of English literature could well do with a counteracting injection of Bollywood-style passion, not just of the tear-jerking variety, of which we have become quite adept, but also encapsulating the wealth of untapped positive emotions would bring colour to those drab bookshop shelves.

—db