William Shakespeare (1564-1616) can always be relied upon to furnish with a line that encapsulates a mood or situation. Those familiar with the play Hamlet will remember the line: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” – meaning that something is seriously awry. Certainly, when it comes to freedom of thought and freedom of speech in the Arts in the UK a climate of fear and intimidation has developed that calls into question the very values that artists claim to espouse.
When it comes to Brexit many prominent individuals in the Arts in the UK have expressed their concern about Brexit, with some happy to take to Social Media to articulate their opinions and hostility. Various percentages have been bandied about purporting to claim that Remain support in the Arts is at the sort of percentage that a dictator chooses to award themselves in the polls. Suffice it to say that the Arts Establishment think Brexit sucks, which should hardly come of a surprise in the light of the fact that the EU has assiduously used funding grants to ensure that the Arts across the EU is favourably disposed towards it. No one is above self-interest and the Arts are no exception.
Where the Arts invariably reflect society and thus has diverse opinions in respect of economic, ideological and social outlooks, when it comes to Brexit there is a prevailing orthodoxy that is so strong that it appears unwilling or unable to continence that someone in the Arts could support Brexit. Artists are increasingly guarded about their opinions for fear that they will be censured, ostracised and have their careers sabotaged by those who happen to see things differently. This is not only profoundly disturbing for the Arts; it is extremely worrying for British society. Some individuals in the arts believe that to admit to supporting Brexit would be to commit professional suicide. These people are utterly convinced that they will be passed over, lose commissions, and potentially see grants and funding cut or withdrawn. Others live in fear of being ‘outed’ as Brexit supporters, something that smacks of a type of McCarthyism. Leon, a young Birmingham-based musician put it this way; “It would be easier to come out as gay than to admit to being in favour of Brexit. I voted for it in 2016 and am even more convinced that the UK made the right decision. Sadly, all Brexit voters are demonised by those who voted Remain, so I just tend to keep my head down.” A few courageous souls have put their heads above the parapet and are routinely ridiculed and abused for doing so. Courageous individuals such as Michael Lightfoot and others from Artists for Brexit (www.artistsforbrexit.com) have endeavoured to restore some equilibrium and sanity to the whole debate about Brexit and the Arts, but regrettably various vested interests appear impervious to reason.
So why should we be worried? The polarisation of society is nothing new, but it is alarming that there are those who happy to use their power, connections, and patronage to stifle and silence those with whom they fundamentally disagree. Where once universities and colleges encouraged a plurality of opinions, now it would appear that only those who are pro-EU are deemed worthy. This is a profoundly disturbing development, not only for British society as whole, but especially for the Arts. Creativity is being stifled, and those who claim to dance to the drum beat of liberalism and tolerance are either happy to acquiesce with or assist those seeking to silence and punish those whose only ‘crime’ was to admit to supporting Brexit.