DAS LAND OHNE KULTUR?
By the Editor
Will sanity prevail, or will it be midsummer madness? Set for the eve of Midsummer Day, the referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union looks likely to reveal that the kingdom is anything but united, with a vote that is possibly too close to predict. What’s absolutely clear is that serious damage will be done to this country’s arts if the Brexit camp wins and if ties are cut with the EU. A vote to leave would be to declare that Britain is an island not just physically but culturally—and all for a dislike of top-heavy bureaucracy. No one can deny our place in European culture, and not believing that we are all responsible for it—especially as southern European member states, the cradles of our civilization, depend on EU funding for preservation of that culture—is just as foolish as not recognizing the idealism of the European project that has sustained peace in 28 member states, and ensured progress in practically every area of our daily lives.
But no, we live in a country where the culture secretary was the first cabinet minister to declare his support for Brexit: John Whittingdale, indulging his petty Euroscepticism rather than standing up for culture. He is of course a mere cadet on that Ship of Fools captained by Michael Gove, with a motley crew mostly playing the immigration card. At a time when 3,000 child refugees are stranded at Calais, it’s worth remembering that the last mass immigration to this country brought us such names as—to pick a few—George Weidenfeld, Walter Goehr, André Deutsch, Rudolf Bing, Carl Ebert, Fritz Busch, Paul Hamlyn, Ernst Gombrich, Nikolaus Pevsner, Claus Moser, Georg Solti, Gerard Hoffnung, Arthur Koestler, Berthold Goldschmidt, George Steiner, Else Mayer-Lissmann, Karl Rankl, Lucian Freud, Egon Wellesz, Mátyás Seiber, Karl Popper, Erwin Stein, Helene Isepp, Vilém Tausky, Hans Gál, Ilse Wolf, Hans Keller, Ida Haendel and the Amadeus Quartet. These names might not mean much to Eurosceptics, but they are names that have defined our culture. The Sceptred Isle party also seems to have forgotten that what has long been thought of as British culture was often created by migrants (Handel, anyone?), and that most of the contents of our National Gallery are not national in any sense. At a time when state funding for the arts is declining, it’s also worth noting that the immigration of 80 years ago laid the foundations for much of today’s cultural philanthropy.
Since we are talking money, and since the economy is the other great fear card played by the Brexiters, let’s pause to consider the UK’s net contribution of £8 billion to the EU in the context of total government expenditure of £760 billion. For all that Britain invests, it gets plenty in return. On the arts scene, cutting ourselves off from the EU would affect Britain’s eligibility to receive funding from Creative Europe, the European Commission’s programme for support in the cultural sector. The positive impact of the EU is certainly acknowledged in Liverpool, to take one example, which as European Capital of Culture in 2008 found its profile radically improved, thanks to 9.7m additional visits that generated an extra £753.8m.
Cross-pollination is vital to the health of our arts, as any of our co-producing companies and venues know. London’s status as one of the world’s cultural capitals depends on free movement of ‘labour’, and EU citizens are likely to choose to perform elsewhere if they need to start applying for work visas here. Equally, do we want British artists to be subject to corresponding restrictions? A vote for Brexit would be a vote for cultural shrinkage and make us look again like not just Das Land ohne Musik, but a land without culture.
Opera, June 2016