A dark new philistinism is behind Britain's arts funding cuts

Looming cuts to university arts and humanities departments destroy the consensus that the arts have inherent value

It sends a chill to the heart that humanities and arts departments in English universities are to be disproportionately hit by funding cuts. For the arts are being attacked from all sides.

These cuts within higher education cannot be seen in isolation from those to culture in general: to museums, to the theatres, orchestras and other arts organisations up and down the land and to local authority cultural budgets.

Nor can they be seen in isolation from threats to budgets further down the educational chain. Headteacher Sir Alasdair Macdonald this week argued that if cultural education and extracurricular activities become, as is likely, a soft target for cuts in primary education, the gap in educational attainment between those from different economic backgrounds will widen, not narrow.

Meanwhile, there are already fears that schemes such as local authority-run music services, which provide orchestras and other musical activities for school-age children of all backgrounds, will be viewed as dispensable.

What this all adds up to is a fear of "death by a thousand cuts". Tough luck, you might argue, when the entire public realm is under stress.

However, that would be to ignore the fact that cultural industries are of enormous, and growing, value to the British economy; that a healthy cultural realm is a powerful reason for Britain's magnetism as a tourist destination; that British cultural excellence – from film stars to great artists – is a valuable signifier of British identity abroad and pride at home and that arts education at school has a powerful effect on children's attainment overall.

If, under the previous government, there was an agreement that the arts were a good in themselves, though resistant to crude numerical quantification and to the banalities of political discourse, that consensus has been shattered. That the humanities in general, from history to law to literature, have a value within a civilised society, seems to have been rejected. There is a dark new philistinism abroad.


Charlotte Higgins, chief arts writer

The GuardianTramp

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