BY Sally Tallant in Opinion | 01 MAR 17

Hope in the Dark: Supporting Artistic Diversity after Brexit

In the aftermath of the EU referendum, the UK government must work harder than ever to support artists and their institutions


BY Sally Tallant in Opinion | 01 MAR 17

‘All Schools should be Art Schools’

- Bob and Roberta Smith

At a moment when the future of funding and free movement appear to be threatened we can find hope in our artists, in our institutions and in our educators who must now step up to the challenge and draw energy from the brilliant, sorely missed, John Berger: ‘Hope is not a form of guarantee; it’s a form of energy, and very frequently that energy is strongest in circumstances that are very dark.’ In this time of uncertainty we must find a way of gaining perspective, and develop ways of seeing that allow us to build new hope. This is what art allows us to do, and we seek it out not only through artists, but through art institutions.

Artists have often spoken out for the rights of people on the margins of society. Now that we are facing a shift in how those people and margins are defined we also need our galleries, museums, art schools and universities to be unwavering in their commitment to maintaining spaces where human rights, diversity of option and creativity can thrive. It is through art and culture that we learn to express our hopes and fears, through art, we articulate alternatives, and build new worlds.

Tracey Emin Opens The New Turner Contemporary Gallery In Margate, 2011. Courtesy: 

Peter Macdiarmid and Getty Images

Culture has never been more popular than it is today in the UK. Seventy years of investment by Arts Council in all of the cities and regions of the UK means that everyone has access to culture wherever they live work and study. Though there has been a drop in visitor numbers compared to 2014-15, more than 4. 5 million people visited Tate Modern last year, and millions more visit galleries and museums across the country. Artists and galleries are working harder than ever before to connect with communities where they are located: mima in Middlesbrough, Turner Contemporary in Margate, The Hepworth in Wakefield, just to mention a few. In Liverpool, the Mayor, Joe Anderson, understands the essential role of culture and the inherently international and diverse perspectives it enables and brings to the city. He can often be heard remarking that ‘Culture is the rocket fuel of regeneration.’

As the Director of Liverpool Biennial, the UK Biennial of Contemporary Art, I employ numerous skilled and brilliant people from the EU and the team benefits from their international perspectives and diverse experiences. We also work with artists from all over the world, including the EU, and these artists are often able to participate and travel to Liverpool to present work in the Biennial thanks to the visa arrangements that make this possible.

In addition to the leading talent we attract and present, we also benefit from European Funding through Creative Europe who support collaboration and exchange; and the fruitful and mutually beneficial partnerships that we have with colleagues in the EU. I hope that we can find ways to maintain and continue to build on these relationships and we are working hard together with our partners to find new ways in anticipation of the impact of Brexit.

In the UK we maintain free access to museums and galleries, and artists thrive in all of our cities and regions. However, this carefully nurtured ecology is threatened by potential cuts in funding, loss of talent and leadership.

Bob and Roberta Smith, All Schools Should Be Art Schools, 2014. Courtesy: the artist

Education is under threat as well: we must make sure that everybody has the opportunity to engage with art in their everyday lives. This means putting the arts back into the heart of the curriculum and make sure all of the people have access to the tools they need to make their hopes and dreams shared ones. We need to ensure that creativity and culture are part of everyone’s education to guarantee we have the innovators, thinkers and leaders we need.

Artists from all over the world move to live and work in the UK. The freedom to move within the EU has made it possible for the best artists, curators, and writers from Europe to show and work in our institutions. Likewise, it has meant that UK nationals can pursue the same opportunities in the rest of the EU. It is hard to imagine how much we will lose when we leave the EU. Until then, we must make the case for complexity and to maintain the rich diversity of culture that defines us.

The freedom to move within the EU has made it possible for the best artists, curators, and writers from Europe to show and work in our institutions. 

Artists in the UK are currently organising a campaign called Keep it Complex, and have created platforms across the UK for action. In the US cultural workers, among others, protested on the 20th January 2017 as Trump came into office. We need spaces where dissent is not only possible, but where it is valued.

In her 2004 book Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit calls for optimism despite the conditions in which we find ourselves: ‘Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope.’

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories,Wild Possibilities, 2016, book cover. Courtesy: 

Haymarket Books

It is time to answer Solnit’s call for ‘hope in the dark,’ and to stand together, to believe and to fight for the values we have fought for, for the values that generations of artists and people have fought for. Institutions of art have always been and must remain places where people can gather and speak freely without fear and places where hope and optimism are not only possible but essential.

In the aftermath of the EU referendum and the wider international political context, UK institutions must work harder than ever to support artists and provide spaces for them to respond to the current state of political uncertainty and turmoil. They must work with artists wherever they are located in the world and enable work and artists to circulate freely.

This essay was written for Citizens of Everywhere, a project by the Centre for New and International Writing at the University of Liverpool. @CitizensofWhere #CitizensofEverywhere.

Main image: Francis Alÿs, Don’t Cross the Bridge Before You Get to the River, 2008, video still. Courtesy: © Francis Alÿs

Sally Tallant is the Director of Liverpool Biennial.