Bradford’s Cutbacks on Culture

For the majority of people, libraries and museums are the cultural hubs of their local communities. With many providing their services for free, anyone can get to experience culture, no matter their background or where they’re from. 

In Bradford, “swingeing cuts” have led to strike action from museum and library staff across 14 venues. The situation that has led to these strikes has been described as being in “sharp contrast” with the news that Bradford is bidding to become the UK’s next City of Culture for 2025.

Following the proposal of further cuts to local libraries and museums, members of the Unite Union voted to take industrial action, with strikes beginning this month and lasting a total of 14 days. According to the Bradford Telegraph, the museum and galleries budget, currently £1.8 million, is due to be cut by a further £500,000 and the libraries budget, £2.8 million, is due to be cut by £1.5 million, totalling a 65% cut overall.

Bradford City Council claims that the cuts are in line with the funding made available from central government. However, with £1.4 million being committed to promoting the bid for City of Culture, the cuts seem contradictory to what the council is planning to achieve.

Even though Bradford is far larger than previous winners, Hull and Derry/Londonderry, “it has some of the lowest levels of cultural engagement in the UK”, according to bid chairwoman, Mary Dowson. The hopes are that if Bradford wins, it will revivify this situation, but the strikes stand in heavy contradiction to the council’s vision.

The official bid webpage claims that “the city has been working for the last six months to put in place new structures to strengthen its capacity and establish a new cultural voice for artists and independent cultural groups”. Although clearly this does not involve the publicly funded museums and libraries. Is culture to be a private exploit now for those with the time and money?

The bid was launched with a premiere showing of Jack King’s short film, We Are All Bradford and the event was chaired by Bradford-born, BBC journalist Sabbiyah Pervez. 

Presenting the bid through significant cultural figures from within the community is one way to inspire and promote local culture, but it’s temporary. They do a great job of representing what local people can aspire to, but unlike the consistent hubs of local culture that are museums and libraries, these figures and grand events do not continue to allow people to experience culture whenever they choose.

There also appears to be a significant emphasis on the performing arts and films sectors from within the bid supporters, representing culture through just one aspect. Highlighting one form of culture, while cutting funding from another, limits what people feel they can become involved in.

And again, this restricts local culture as being represented by a few individuals who made it big in specific careers, rather than expressing how culture is represented through everyone, no matter their talents, careers, or wealth.

Hull’s bid for the City of Culture largely revolved around single, gigantic arts events, which did a lot for the community in the short-term, but the BBC has reported that there has been a significant drop off in engagement. Yet some of the benefits do seem to be lasting, as according to Hull University, the title attracted a large rise in visitors for a time after the victory and brought £228 million of investment to the city between 2013 and 2018.

If Bradford wins in 2021, the city council has declared new cultural events will be hosted and local landmarks, such as City Park, Cartwright Hall, the former cinema, St George’s Hall and Cliffe Castle Museum and Park, will be restored. But there has been no mention of money returning to the museums and libraries budgets permanently. A title and subsequent celebration, while great for the city, are only temporary. Culture is not simply a one-time celebration and neither is it a privilege for those who can afford it; culture should be consistent and open to all.

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