Entertainment

Could arts funding cuts and cost of living crisis affect your favourite TV shows and films?

Could your favourite Netflix series be impacted by funding cuts to the theatre industry? Could a reduction in investment into opera really affect franchises such as Star Wars?

It’s something most people don’t think about when they read about funding cuts to the arts, warns top British playwright James Graham – but they should.

Graham, whose plays include the Tony-nominated Ink, Privacy, and Quiz – about the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? coughing scandal, which he turned into a TV series in 2020 – says recent cuts in London by Arts Council England, combined with the cost of living crisis, will have a huge impact on the entertainment industry’s “pipeline”.

Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker is the final film in the Skywalker saga. Pic. Walt Disney
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Pic. Star Wars/Walt Disney

He told Sky News: “Even if you don’t go to the opera, you don’t necessarily appreciate the training that happens to artists, writers, technicians, scenic designers – they all go on to Netflix, they all go on to work on the Star Wars movies.

“Very quickly, I think in the next 18 months, two years, the depletion and the diminishment of arts across television, theatre, music, is going to be really impactful. And it’s frustrating.”

Earlier in November, Arts Council England announced a £43.5m “levelling up” investment outside London to back “art, culture, and creativity for more people in more places, across the country”.

However, grants in the capital have been cut – including to organisations such as English National Opera.

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Supporters say the rebalancing is long overdue, but critics argue the move impacts some of the UK’s most important cultural institutions.

Graham, who grew up as “a working class kid” in Nottingham, said he understands “these are hard arguments to make in a difficult climate”, as people struggle to heat their homes and feed their families due to soaring prices.

“But the arts is one of the main drivers for the British economy,” he said. “I reject this argument that giving money to the arts is taking away from hospitals – investing in arts pays for hospital beds, having a really thriving culture sector pays for teachers wages.

Best Of Enemies playwright James Graham. Pic: Johan Persson
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James Graham: ‘The arts basically prints money and gives it back to the government’ – Pic: Johan Persson

“They keep talking about growth… we’re a huge growth sector. As well as remembering of course that stories, television dramas, plays, musicals, have an emotional, social impact on our society. They make us better, empathetic human beings for a very, very small cost.”

The arts “eventually return more than they cost, in all the ways – financial, emotional, social cohesion,” he added. “It basically prints money and gives it back to the government.”

Graham’s latest play, political drama Best Of Enemies, stars Zachary Quinto as Gore Vidal opposite David Harewood’s William F Buckley Jr, exploring their bitter political rivalry and historic clashes which transformed political debates and revolutionised current affairs broadcasting.

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“The play centres on these debates, [the] very first live televised debates that were screened on ABC between two intellectuals, one on the left, one on the right,” Harewood, best known for Homeland, told Sky News. “And it ended up being the most watched programme of that entire election cycle. It’s about politics. It’s about ideas. It’s about personal animosity.

“It’s very, very funny. Hugely entertaining, and I think… says a lot about where we are in modern politics.”

Quinto, who starred in the American Horror Story series and also played Spock in the rebooted Star Trek films, said: “You can really chart the journey from where this began to where we are today in a way that is, I think, both exciting and also troubling in a sense.

“Troubling in the sense that we now live in a world that is almost entirely created by echo chambers. We listen to what we want to hear and not really anything else.”

Best Of Enemies opens at the Noel Coward Theatre on 28 November

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