On June 23rd, fear had a winning hand. Nationalist discourse, undertones of xenophobia, and anti-immigrant anger generated a majority whose votes dragged Britain into a new era. On June 24th, populistic fear of foreigners and immigrants seemed to be replaced by a different kind of fear: an arresting angst over the future. The British exit is expected to take some time to reach completion, yet every moment feels like another step in the dark, a collective leap into the unknown, paralleled by individual shock, mistrust and disappointment.
As trade and investment channels are to be redrafted and new economic regulations and financial policies defined, entire industries will be facing emerging realities, heavily characterized by uncertainty. Concern over Brexit consequences for creative industries, both in the UK and in EU, is already palpable.
The vibrant art and culture sector is one of Britain's great traits, as the country holds the second place in global television production and second place in the design sector. With over 1.6 million people employed in creative businesses, Britain looks at a gross value added of £71.4 billion in the creative sector. Will British and UK based creatives still thrive under reduced cross-border mobility and high import and export tariffs? Will London remain a hub of creativity, as its cosmopolitan character is threatened?
Young generations of artists and creatives were born into a world where borders refer rather to imaginary delimitations, irrelevant to their identity. Being European is an essential element of their identity as creative professionals; their artistic coming-of-age and creative freedom is closely connected to unrestricted freedom to travel and produce art as Europeans, primarily. The prospect of a closed border seems shocking, strange, and outdated.
The impact Brexit will have on the artistic and creative market is difficult to quantify, but quite easy to imagine. If dissatisfaction over immigration led most Brits to vote Leave, reduced immigration figures will also apply to people who relocate to the UK and consequently contribute to affluence and diversity in the British art world.
Arts and culture sectors enjoy a high rate of success when applying to EU funding. Between 2007 and 2012, the UK received over £37 million from the European Commission via Creative Europe programmes. The benefit for British creative business outweighs the cost of EU membership, although it might not seem so to financial experts arguing for Brexit. With a 46% success rate of incoming EU funding for the arts, British arts exports are expected to increase by £31 billion by 2020. Brexit is a clear a threat to this.
EU runs cultural programmes such as the European Prize for Contemporary Architecture, or the European Capital Culture, won by Liverpool in 2008, which led to the city's economic benefits to rise up to £750 million. Britain had three cities in the run for the European Cultural Capital title for 2023, but this is no longer considered.
The European Research Council (ERC) is an essential body for UK research: Britain accounts for 22% of ERC funds, the equivalent of 25 recipient countries combined. Horizon 2020, the biggest research and innovation programme in the EU is currently being implemented in Britain, allowing access to nearly £80 billion in funds. This type of access will be cut, and it is unclear what sort of agreement will replace it. New immigration policies will also affect higher education employment, as nearly 20% of academic staff in British universities are non-UK EU nationals.
Brexit threatens the fluidity of the cycles of creative production, distribution and consumption, from and towards the UK. As British music accounts for a quarter of the entire European market of recorded music, this sector is expected to suffer at various levels. Live music will evidently be affected by decreased mobility and necessities of individual visas and registration papers for equipment, or alternative VAT tariffs for export of products or goods. Production and sale of physical music will be affected by import and export duty, which will be hard to avoid, given that most vinyl, for example, is produced in pressing plants in mainland Europe.
Time consuming and slow course of applying for visa and work permits are sure to affect a relevant number of collaborations for EU artists and designers, whose creative processes will be interrupted by complicated entry and exit paperwork. Young British designers and artists are heavily supported by UK institutions that rely on EU funding. Brexit will change this, threatening to make businesses unsustainable by leading to slow and expensive trading and shipping.
The British EU exit is a shocking, confusing and frustrating historic event, which sets in motion a damaging wave of uncertainty, most likely to affect individuals and collectives at very intense levels. Business will probably go on as usual for a while, but something essential lies beyond business: creativity, emotion, imagination – we need to remember to nurture and cherish these, in order to counter the potentially crippling effects of Britain without EU and of EU without Britain.
Words: Elena Stanciu