The Guardian view on arts and the pandemic: support needed now | Editorial

The Southbank Centre in London is the latest institution to warn of disaster. It is time for decisive government action

A vocal minority in the UK say the arts are parasites on the state, leaching away public money when they ought to live or die by the market. And yet most people agree that museums, galleries, music and theatre are a public good, and should be available to everyone, no matter who they are, not just the wealthy. Take the great national museums as an example – in Cardiff, Dundee, Salford, London, Belfast, Leeds, Edinburgh and elsewhere. They are free to enter, and have a special role as the keeper of civic memories, at the heart of the public realm. The burden of some of their costs is shared so that their benefits can be shared. They belong to us all.

In fact, though, the public purse does not bear much of the burden of the arts. Cultural organisations in Britain have received less and less public funding proportionate to their turnover. In 2010 the coalition government cut the Arts Council England budget by 30%, while local authority support has been shattered by Conservative austerity measures. British performing arts organisations tend to receive only around 20-30% of their funding from public sources. The rest is earned, largely from ticket sales.

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