Talk to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Art, Craft and Design in Education ~ 21st January 2018
There are two main prerequisites for making art.
1. Peace.... You can’t make art if people are dropping bombs on you...
From the dynasties of China, the Moguls of India, the ancient Silk Road, through to the Roman Empire, African modernisms, jazz music, Western European culture and onward to Globalisation, developments in Art have gone had in hand with trade. Trade not just in objects but also in ideas. Culture thrives through collision. British culture benefits enormously from immigration. New voices come and see new solutions to old problems. And when we live elsewhere we understand the world better and deeper than before.
I was lucky to live in Rome for two years and then live in America.
Brexit presents an enormous set back to the arts. Because like the Sciences, Art is about research and discussion, shared development and being able to profit from the accumulation of dispirit bodies of understanding.
Let’s think for a moment of the great works of English writing? Conrad from Poland, Joyce from Ireland, Becket from Ireland, Salman Rushdie from India. Zadie Smith, Hanif Kureishi - The Buddha of Suburbia. This is British culture.
Let’s think of some amazing British artists? Runa Islam, Turner Prize winner Lubaina Himid, Haroon Mirza, Chris Ofili, Goska Macuga, Jessica Voorsanger, Wolfgang Tilmans, Yinka Shonebare, Laura Provoust. British art comes here and is born here and grows here. British Art is rich, it's polyphonic, it's diasporic, it's home grown and its been born out of the excellence of attractive British Art Schools and is a result of British History, empire and two world wars. The Brexiteers are trying to deny the very nature of our island's culture.
I wrote an article for the Guardian on the more technical effects of Brexit on the Arts. I was inspired by an idiotic remark by David Starkey on the Today programme. He said we should not be concerned because 'we have been here before when Henry the VIII split with Rome in the 1540s'. Well the English reformation lead to the dissolution of the monasteries and the wholesale destruction of medieval British culture.
In the Victorian era Pugin's understanding of this catastrophe lead to the Gothic revival and to the building we are now standing in.
When it comes to culture Brexiteers are... to say the least... misleading. Those who claimed that the NHS would benefit by £350 million a week are at it again. Where will the £45 to £60 Billion that we now find we have to pay to leave Europe come from? The bill to leave Europe will denude the NHS, destroy local authorities budgets and wipe out arts funding.
They say there will be a European style U.S. ESTA visa waiver system for European travel. If you have tried to travel to America on the ESTA scheme with a guitar as part of your luggage you will know that the border officials put your name into Google, see where you are playing and you go no further. No young bands or orchestras will gig in Europe and none will come here. We will see the curtailment of ad hoc exhibitions devised by small galleries with no budget or resources to engage in the Brexiteers complex new culture of pointless bureaucracy staffed by a Dad’s Army of volunteers operating on the precautionary principle.
No thought has been given to the replacement of the £1.46 Billion Creative Europe fund.
No thought has been given to maintaining the Erasmus Programme.
My son goes to the Anglo European school where dedicated teachers travel to Europe each year with students excited about learning European languages. It’s my son's dream is to study Architecture in Germany. On the morning of the Brexit vote he turned to me and said that’s my chance to study in Berlin finished. My MP, my Labour MP, John Cryer voted out when his constituency Leytonstone voted to remain. Politicians need to ask themselves why aren’t they fighting for the rights and pay of European workers, and European nationals, teachers and nurses, and yes European creatives and their families and children now based in this country? These people are being left out in the cold. A generation of 50 year old plus politicians who want young people to vote for them should ask themselves, are they going to betray British 'millennial' ambition which is overwhelmingly pro-European? I think the second referendum is coming and in it 16 and 17 year olds must be allowed to vote.
Those prerequisites of art I mentioned at the beginning, Peace and Freedom, freedom of movement and ideas, are not just the prerequisites of Art but they are the prerequisites of a flourishing society and democracy. They are what Europe has been built on. Life will go on if Brexit happens but we are throwing away so much... so much that could help us develop and enable us to be all that we can be. No borders, no barriers. What Unites Human Beings, Ears, Eyes, Toes, Hearts, Hopes, Loves is huge and wonderful, what divides human beings is small and mean.