Michael Craig-Martin. Photo: Caroline True.

UK Art World Uneasy About Brexit Negotiations as Election Approaches

As the UK prepares itself to elect a prime minister on June 8 who will guide it out of the EU, many arts professionals throughout the nation are anxious about the fate of culture, write Gareth Harris and Javier Pes of the Art Newspaper. About 15 percent of the staff members across the Tate’s four galleries, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the British Museum—nearly four hundred people in total—are worried that Brexit negotiations will most likely put a stop to the open movement of labor between the UK and the EU.

Tristram Hunt, a former shadow minister of the Labour Party and the new director of the V&A; Nicholas Serota, chairman of the Arts Council England; and Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum, are concerned about being able to hire the best people in Europe to work for the UK’s leading arts institutions and, further, how Brexit may affect the country’s reputation as a leader in culture (132 EU nationals are employed by the British Museum; the V&A employs 131). “We want to secure the status of existing members of staff and ensure that we can continue to attract talented staff in the future,” said the German-born Fischer. Serota has said that the Tate’s success in recent years has been due to it being able to work with curators who have international backgrounds. He also mentioned the contributions foreign artists have made to British culture, such as the late Spanish artist Juan Muñoz and the German-born photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, who came to the UK from Europe to study at the Slade School of Fine Art and Goldsmiths, among other colleges.

“Students, artists, scientists, and academics have all benefited from the high degree of creative, cultural, educational, and social integration that the EU made possible,” said artist Michael Craig-Martin, who teaches at Goldsmiths and was once a trustee on the Tate’s board. Since Brexit, he fears that many now view the UK as “narrowly nationalistic, backward-looking, self-absorbed, undependable, mean-spirited, and arrogant.” There has been a 7 percent drop in applications to art schools in the UK from EU nationals. Munira Mirza, the pro-Brexit former deputy mayor for education and culture of London under Boris Johnson, said that the decline has nothing to do with Brexit and that these kinds of fluctuations are normal. “We are leaving the EU, not Europe,” she said. Craig-Martin, however, isn’t buying it. He feels that young people everywhere once saw the UK as a place of unlimited potential. “Our own young did not see [internationals] as a threat to their own prospects, but as like-minded peers,” he said.