Since my post in June following the UK referendum on Britain leaving the European Union, the world seems to have only gotten crazier. A wave of popularism may be leading to major political changes in Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands, and the world has most notably has changed with the bizzare election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. The wave had already washed over (or arguably partially originated in) Britain in 2016, with 52% of the British public voting for the United Kingdom to leave the EU.
The reasons for the support for Brexit were clear: ignorance and hatred. I won’t go into some of the absurd myths that lead to the backing of rats like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. Anti-immigrant sentiment and general xenophobia were evidenced in the weeks following the vote. The general distrust of foreigners and deliberate fear-mongering over international terrorism groups like the so-called IS were echoed horribly in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, which led to his inaugoration last month. As this national attitude becomes more normalised, several European countries are following suit and often-extreme right-wing attitudes are becoming validated.
On the back of this validation comes UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s strong push for a ‘hard Brexit’ – a clean break that will mean the end of the single market and the customs union for Britain. There have been numerous instances of President Trump specifically supporing Brexit as ‘a great thing’ and praising the UK, and a distinct lack of outrage from our Prime Minister regarding the recent anti-Muslim executive order and other disgusting behaviour from President Trump. Now that the snake is eating its own tail, we can look forward to a cycle that, at best, may only be slowed by the leftist outcry. In any case, Parliament seems dead set on Brexit and any hope following the ruling on Article 50 has been dashed. We can, apparently, expect more pandering towards President Trump.
So what does this mean for the arts in the UK and Europe? Sadly, not much has changed since I wrote about it 8 months ago. There have been some updates from Creative Europe in October and November of last year, but nothing since the Parliamentary ruling. The Culture, Media and Sports committee has launched an enquiry into the impacts of Brexit, the results of which are summarised here. The gist from Creative Europe is that there are no immediate changes to funding options – until the UK leaves the EU, which is anticipated to be finalised at the end of 2018. The European Commission assures us that there is no negative bias against applicants from the UK, but of course it would say that. I’m inclined to believe them.
To be more specific, we are seeing a boom of political art and publications that are direct reactions to what is happening in Britain and around the world, plus jumps in sales of dystopian fiction like A Handmaid’s Tale, It Can’t Happen Here, 1984, Brave New World, and my favourite Fahrenheit 451, along with non-fiction books detailing with totalitarianism and fascism, according to Literary Hub and other sources (plus, conversely, a new interest in Trump’s The Art of the Deal). Whereas one editorial of the Guardian says that Brexit and an apparent backlash against modern art are linked, and could therefore spell the end of pretention on modern art, another by Mark Brown is hopeful of a fresh injection of arts funding following Brexit, provided there is enough support from the government. It’s no secret that hardship can be the source of great art. As always, time will tell.