Lauren Clancy: “What can our next government do for the arts?”

In two days’ time the country will head to the polls to decide who our next government will be. While this will be a pivotal moment for the nation in many ways, at the Bush we are keenly aware of the shared responsibility of the sector to ensure arts and culture sit firm on our next government’s agenda and to talk loudly about the issues that matter to us. 

As Executive Director of the Bush, I think it’s important to talk about the three key policy areas that sector organisations have been lobbying for and that we feel most affect the Bush’s work: income generation, talent development, and international collaboration.

Firstly, for a decade now the arts sector has operated on near standstill funding and in London, as the cost of living has risen, standstill funding often means cuts in real terms. Theatres like ours have been dynamic in diversifying income streams but the political and economic climate means this pace has slowed. 

Our complicity in squeezing our workforce means we are failing to diversify, develop and retain talent

Our inherent commitment to the values of public subsidy means that – on the whole – this has not hit ticket prices. And this should not be taken for granted. A ticket to a ‘subsidised’ show in New York can set you back over $85 and prices in London’s West End can be £100+.

But behind the scenes, organisations are finding it increasingly difficult to support risk-taking and continued low pay is squeezing our workforce. To stop this, the next government must support new financial models and ensure a bedrock of public funding.

Secondly, our complicity in squeezing our workforce means we are failing to diversify, develop and retain talent on stage and behind the scenes. Consider how rich our sector would be if we not only nurtured and retained new talent but attracted mid-career individuals from other sectors. Unless we address this now, we risk losing a generation – or more – of artists and industry professionals.

The next government must not only recognise the importance of diversity but actively open entry routes to our sector. Here it’s impossible not to comment on the education sector, responsible not only for a curriculum that values creativity but for offering every young person the right to consider themselves as artists.

And finally, in an increasingly insular and sometimes intolerant world, it’s crucial that the next government recognises the sector’s need to look beyond the UK for talent, ideas, and relationships. 

At the Bush, we have been working to get to know our local candidates to make sure that they understand how important the arts are to our local area and to wider society. At the same time, organisations like UK Theatre/ SOLT and The Creative Industries Federation have worked with the sector and published manifestos that they wanted to see reflected in our political parties’ pledges. And they continue to lobby candidates in the run-up to the election on 12 December.

Whoever walks into Downing Street on the 13th December, it is important that the theatre industry and wider arts sector are vocal about seeing real and impactful change.