Foundations and Brexit: A view from… arts & culture funding

In this series, we are taking a closer look at what Brexit means for foundations. We will include perspectives from across the UK and from funders with a number of specialisms and approaches. Although the situation changes daily and the implications are still uncertain, this series will explore some of the thoughts and reactions from within the sector. The second article in our series comes from Moira Sinclair, Chief Executive of Paul Hamlyn Foundation.


A view from… arts and culture funding

Brexit has exposed divisions within our society that we must respond to, and arts and culture is very well placed to do that. One of our grants programmes is all about making sure that people who are experiencing disadvantage, and don’t have access to arts and culture, do gain that access. As a funder, our emphasis is on encouraging artists and cultural leaders to make connections to the communities they serve, and to make sure everyone has a say, both in how cultural institutions work with local communities and in the work created and how it is shared.

It is easy to think of art as a distraction, but it is so much more. For example, it could be about providing a safe space to explore difference, or giving a platform to people’s experiences. The desire to get different voices heard is already there – I think it is going to speed up and gain greater impetus, post referendum.

There are technical issues for the arts and cultural sector as well, not least the free movement of people, which may have an impact on artists and creative people coming in and out of the UK. Many artists are connected to research institutions and we are already hearing that those institutions are worried about whether they will still be able to access European funding and opportunities.

The arts and cultural sector is creative and resilient, but it is harder to be creative when you are worried about the basics, such as money. The broader issue is whether there will be a continued and extended austerity as a result of Brexit, and what that will do to all public and subsidised services, including the arts and cultural sector.

When we developed our current strategy in 2015, we were aware of some of the challenges, but not necessarily aware of the depth of those issues. For example, we recognised the disjoint between the major urban centres and some of the issues facing the rest of the country, and had made a commitment to fund outside of London, but I don’t think we realised how deeply the concerns were rooted and how easily they could be encouraged to the fore. Maybe we had not understood the disenchantment with the elite, seen as a group of people who aren’t listening at all.

Another focus of our work is young people, who overwhelmingly voted to stay in Europe. Our deep-seated commitment to get young people’s voices heard had been in place for several years before the vote. The question for us as a funder and for other funders is to ensure that this involvement is deep and long-lasting, not just programmatic. It needs to be sustainable and to build capacity for communities to be able to respond and be resilient in the face of a challenge like Brexit.

Our trustees have just agreed a small increase in our grant-making next year, and they also have more flexible strategic initiative funds at their disposal to respond to specific circumstances. One recipient of those funds is Undivided, a youth-led group bringing together young people on all sides of the Brexit argument to work out what a good settlement for young people post-referendum would look like.

In terms of our international work, which is only a very small part of what we do, I don’t think Brexit will make much difference. We are already very aware of the opportunities and restrictions of operating in India. We will continue to use our European networks such as Ariadne to look at best practice across the piece and how we might learn from it.

Migration and integration is obviously an issue in terms of attitudes during and following the referendum. We have some really good partnerships with funders such as the UK’s Barrow Cadbury Trust and Unbound Philanthropy from the US, and are doing a lot of collaborative work in this space, aligning or pooling funds for maximum impact. We believe we have a role to play in backing work that is perhaps less well understood, for example funding work that supports and gives a voice to young people who have migrated and do not have settled status.

In my heart, I think the country still has enormous appetite and sympathy for people who are fleeing very difficult situations, but the language got very muddled through the campaigning, and part of our work over the next few years will be to try to clarify why people come to the UK, the contributions they make, and the impact that the movement of people has in the UK and globally. We will work to support people coming into the country and the communities they live in, building resilience in both and sharing best practice about how to do that.

Because the debate has been so public, we have to take the opportunity to have authentic and open conversations. Perhaps with our ‘British’ reticence, we have not been very good about talking about the challenges that come with being an island. Nor have we talked about austerity, and what that does to a country’s ability to welcome people. There is a chance to build on the debate. The worst thing we could do is to pretend it is not there.

Moira Sinclair
Chief Executive
Paul Hamlyn Foundation


Other articles in this series:

A view from… Scotland 
A view from... science funding 
A view from... Northern Ireland 
A view from... Wales 
A view from... medical research 
A view from... environmental funding 
A view from... Europe 

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