Hundreds protest against culture cuts

Tony Hisgett

By Dan Heard

Last Saturday, hundreds of demonstrators marched through Cardiff city centre protesting proposed cuts to the arts and culture budget, in a move that could allegedly “threaten the future of culture in the city”.

Around four hundred people gathered outside the National Museum before marching through the city centre bearing signs and banners, ending at Cardiff Central Library. Cuts of around £700,000 to Cardiff Council’s budget have been proposed, which will fall in line with the government’s stated savings of around £115 million over the next three years.

Schemes such as Artes Mundi, an internationally focused arts organisation recognising contemporary visual artists in Wales, and the biggest contemporary arts show in the country, will see their funding slashed, alongside the Cardiff Singer of the World competition and the charitable trust Cardiff Contemporary and Arts Active.

The cuts come despite groups receiving praise for their innovation in the industry and for inspiring artists, as well as “countless grassroots and community arts projects”, with cuts of around £150,000 affecting them directly. A total of £430,000 to arts venues across the city has also been mooted, as well as the budgets to arts grants, which are expected to be somewhere in the region of £70,000.

Over the past three years alone, approximately £100 million has been cut to the nation’s cultural budget. After being debated by councillors back in December, scrutiny committees for Economy and Culture have been scheduled for the 15th and 16th of February.

The movement has drawn support from far and wide, with notable celebrities championing their cause. Singer Charlotte Church, who in recent times has become something of an outspoken political activist, tweeted her support for the movement, saying: “#cardiffwithoutculture looked like a lively march you beauts! Nice work! Cardiff NEEDS to remain a cultural hub”.

Speaking exclusively to Gair Rhydd, Rabab Ghazoul, one of the organisers of the march, expressed how pleased she was with the turnout of supporters for their cause: “The media always underestimates attendance figures, we counted closer to a thousand people turning up in the end, and that’s clear to see from the pictures taken on the day!”.

She added: “That kind of turn-out is fantastic considering the campaign only got underway four weeks earlier, and the support for the march shown by local people who were willing to turn up in awful weather is testament to how strongly people feel about this issue”.

I think the march sent a very clear message to the Council, and I think that message was several fold: first of all, that we oppose these cuts and are united in that opposition. Secondly, a clear message went out about how much the local community, to include the arts community, values the city Cardiff has become, and doesn’t want to go backwards”.

“Thirdly, the march wasn’t just a bunch of people moaning about cuts, it was in itself a highly creative demonstration of everything we do well in the arts community, and we don’t wish that very creativity to be undermined and jeopardised. This kind of event doesn’t come about from nothing, it happens because there is already a healthy cultural infrastructure in place that enables us to come together and work together. Take that away and you start diluting the strength and capability of the arts community. I’m particularly pleased we succeeded in mounting a highly creative and celebratory protest, as it drew attention to the very thing we think is under threat if these cuts go ahead”.

The protest received messages of support from film maker Ken Loach and Turner prize winning artist Jeremy Deller, as well as Charlotte Church.

According to the organiser: “This just goes to demonstrate how powerful the campaign was, to draw the attention of such people, but also how strongly our cause is felt by a number of highly respected and successful individuals working within the arts themselves”.

She concluded: “Overall, we are delighted that so many came to protest cuts to the arts in Cardiff. It’s a vindication that people believe in the power of culture, they get it, they value it. We want to build on that voice, we intend to build on that renewed sense of community, and we intend to go about that in creative and culturally dynamic ways, as you would expect from the arts community”.