I have been reading about the latest Vogue World initiative—“where fashion meets the best of British arts”—a splashy benefit event that will be squeezed into a svelte one-night star-studded extravaganza in September. The event will not only showcase what London does best—it is still perhaps the most creative city on the planet—but will also devote 100% of its ticket proceeds to London’s beleaguered performing arts organisations. “The arts are under threat in the UK and Vogue World will be a timely reminder of how important they are, how vital a part of our lives, and how much they need our support,” says Anna Wintour, the chief content officer at Condé Nast, and the global editorial director of Vogue. The beneficiaries include the National Theatre, the Royal Opera House, the Rambert Dance Company and the Royal Ballet, among others—many of whom have been eloquent and vocal about their plight.
It struck me that the visual arts are in a similarly parlous state. Our July/August front-page report reveals that smaller and medium-sized organisations in the UK are crumbling—with some closing for good—under the triple weight of government cuts, soaring energy bills and a cost-of-living crisis (following hot on the heels of the pandemic). But I was also struck by a contrast, too: unlike the performing arts, the visual arts have a tendency not to shout to the rafters about the fantastic things they do, nor do they go public when they feel undermined. Even London’s flagship museums and galleries are under pressure, increasingly reliant on a small pool of philanthropic donors. And when confidence is wobbly, and the pipeline of talent is damaged, our lucrative art market—London is still number two in the world—will feel the pain as well.
As with the theatre world, the London visual arts and gallery scene is part of a rich ecosystem that relies on a good arts education in the classroom—whatever your school, and wherever you happen to live—and feeds through to art colleges, and arts and humanity courses at universities. But a brutal cull of art and design education is underway, while, as Tristram Hunt, the V&A director, reminds us in his leading article, art and design GCSEs are down 60% over the past 12 years. Our curators and specialists rely on this pipeline, too, whether working in some of the country’s great regional and university museums and galleries, or small to mid-tier commercial galleries, which are now severely feeling the squeeze.
The Vogue World event is inspired by the famous New York Met Ball—but the London event will not be held in a museum. It will be hosted by the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. So let’s fill the gap, and begin to shout about what the visual art sector does for brand UK and for everyone’s lives and livelihoods, and wheel out a myriad of stars of our own.