Last week the world watched on as Brexit unfolded before their eyes. The votes were cast and the results were in. Britain, in a historic move, opted out of the European Union (EU). The result sent waves across the world as thousands took to their various social media accounts to express their shock, disappointment and outrage. Regardless of the varying responses, there was a unifying and collective sense of uncertainty that swept across the globe.
One of the more immediate effects of Brexit was seen on the British currency. The pound took a significant blow and was the lowest that it has ever been in thirty years. Overnight, the pound dropped 8 percent against the dollar while the Euro rose 6 percent against the pound. And as most persons made predictions about the effect this could possibly have on the economy and international trade relations, the art world too contemplated these as well as the implications of revised immigration policies.
In an article for the Guardian titled “Arts hit back at Brexit: ‘I feel nothing but rage,’” India-born British sculptor Anish Kapoor expressed his shame at the xenophobia saying: “There are so many levels of division in Britain. And it’s all so unnecessary. […] How will this affect my art? Some anger does get in there. But what I feel today is mostly shame. Art reflects our national consciousness, but now we’ve just dug a big hole and buried it forever.”
Artistic director at Northern Broadsides Barrie Rutter, in the same article, made a similar gloomy forecast but acknowledged the possible silver lining saying: “What’s so awful about the vote is that it’s a leap into the dark – and for a while, it will only get darker. […] For artists, it will only increase dynamism and creativity – hungry artists are always creative. Some will attack the status quo, although that status quo has changed overnight to a tougher, more rightwing thing. Governments have always had a problem with the arts because we ask them for money, then we lampoon them.”
While Rutter believes that artists will no doubt “bounce back” from this decision, he was more concerned about the availability of funding to support these efforts and the effect it would have on already dwindling audiences. He also believes that fear-mongering tactics were employed to sway the public’s decision, particularly regarding the immigration issue, adding: “We don’t have to go back very far to see the fear of the foreigner and the fear of the outsider being used in that way.”
Although there have been murmurs that a clean exit from the EU could take at least two years, effectively buying the rest of the world some time to figure things out, the general feeling in the arts community is that the effects of this withdrawal could be a bit more immediate. In addition to jeopardizing already established (as well as emerging) European connections, other restrictions could include limited access to EU markets, limited access to training at European institutions as well as visa requirements where there were none in the past. Then, of course, there is also the very real possibility of losing access to the €1.3 billion Creative Europe program.
Earlier in the year the Creative Industries Federation conducted a survey that revealed 96% of its members were in favor of remaining a member of the EU. Listed among the reasons for wanting to stay was access to funding from the EU in order to facilitate the free movement of talent between territories. This concern ranks high in the arts community since it comes at a time when a tremendous amount of groundwork has been laid by regional artist-led initiatives in order to provide sustainable development and encourage integration and cultural exchange between regions, particularly Europe and the Caribbean.
Conversely, British art dealers have made it clear that they look forward to a future without EU regulations on trade, specifically regarding issues such as Artist’s Resale Rights, as they move toward a “liberated and progressive approach.” But who’s to say that this would be the case and that they haven’t jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire? At this point we could drive ourselves crazy speculating about possible outcomes. Regardless, the work continues. In the midst of any change, welcome or otherwise, artists have always absorbed the shockwaves by finding ways to make things work in their favor.
Meanwhile British High Commissioner to Guyana Greg Quinn, in a Facebook video message reiterated the UK’s commitment to Guyana saying: “In the short term, as the Foreign Minister [Carl Greenidge] has said, nothing will change. […] As the Prime Minister said last year, the UK is expanding its commitment to the Caribbean and its commitment to Guyana. That also will not change. As I sit here today, I can tell you that the UK is committed to Guyana and will continue to be committed to Guyana. Whether we are a member of the EU or not we are still and will remain a major player on the world stage. Nothing will change that.”