Cutbacks and “chronic underinvestment” have pushed the island’s arts scene to crisis point, culture leaders have warned.
In an open letter, the Chairs of ArtHouse Jersey, the Jersey Arts Centre and the Opera House, Philip Hewat Jaboor, Andrew Goodyear and Pierre Horsfall, urged election candidates to recognise the “pressing need for the next government to address the ongoing viability” of their organisations - otherwise they could face a curtain call.
“…Jersey grossly underinvests in the cultural sector when compared to similar jurisdictions, including the Isle of Man, and has no coherent strategy for nurturing the creative industries. This chronic underinvestment has led to the Island missing opportunity after opportunity that would have benefitted our community in manifold ways, both economic and social,” they explained.
The three organisations rely predominantly on government grants, not only to maintain premises and attract performers to the island, but to invest in local festivals and arts initiatives. ArtHouse Jersey – previously the Jersey Arts Trust - also provides seed funding to Jersey artists of all disciplines, having previously supported rapper Christian Foley, Eastenders actor Jonny Labey and director Michael Pearce, who recently released Jersey-based 'Beast' (pictured above).
Pictured: Christian Foley, a spoken word artist who uses rap to teach children, has previously benefited from support from the Jersey Arts Trust.
But Jersey-based arts charities were found to receive significantly less support than UK organisations, receiving less than half the amount of funding according to Arts Council England statistics.
States of Jersey Accounts show that government grants received by the two theatres fell, while the Arts Trust grant did not rise in line with inflation between 2014 and 2016. Over the same period, Opera House accounts showed that ticket sales nosedived by more than £300,000, while annual running costs continued to climb.
Deputy Murray Norton, the Assistant Minister with responsibility for culture, said that part of the issue was to do with their status as ‘Arm’s Length Organisations’ – entities that require government funding to run, but maintain their independence.
“Clearly during the last MTFP (Medium Term Financial Plan) we had restrictions on what we could and could not deliver from the envelope of funds we had available to go right across the whole government,” he told Express.
Pictured: The Chairmen of the Arts Centre and Opera House both signed the letter calling for election candidates to look after the arts.
“Receiving grants from the government is something that they’ve relied on. The emphasis of compliance and making sure – rightly so – that they’re spending the money that they should be, those checks and balances have to be in place, but they have to be offset against the need to operate and function in a different way to other organisations. For instance, these are organisations that may need to book artists a year or two in advance – they can’t do that if they don’t get their grant funding in time to be able to do that.”
But he said the issue was nonetheless on its way to being resolved. Deputy Norton last year chaired a “high-level” British-Irish Council Summit discussion on the creative industries with the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales, in which he said “it was agreed with the Chief Minister that more funding should go into the creative industries.”
Since then, government has held discussions with the three parties behind the open letter in a bid to find a way forward. That research has formed the basis of an independently created Cultural Strategy for Jersey due to be published “in the coming weeks.”
Although yet to be finalised, the Assistant Minister revealed that the creative “roadmap” recommended “political oversight for culture for the many years going forward” as well as “detailed recommendations about funding”, including comparisons to other jurisdictions.
Pictured: Deputy Murray Norton, the Assistant Minister with responsibility for culture, thinks there should be a Minister dedicated to arts and heritage.
It also recognises the growing value of the creative industries to the economy and job creation. In the UK, the arts contribute 5.5% of GVA, having grown by as much as 45% since 2010.
If properly nurtured by following the examples of Liverpool, Edinburgh, Barcelona and Bilbao, arts could also contribute to the island’s “wellbeing, health, vibrancy and tourism”, Deputy Norton added.
He is now calling for the new government to “collectively recognise” the importance of making Jersey a culturally diverse place – and has one more idea on how to help that growth.
“I think the creative industries – culture, arts, heritage, which all go together - needs a minister designated to it and I hope that would be something the new government would consider and redesign. I think it took a step towards that for the first time ever. I was the first – I was an Assistant Minister but with a ministerial delegation for culture… The stats across the world show [the creative industries] are a massive growth area, a way of diversification and they do deserve their own minister and someone politically who is delegated that responsibility.”
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