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Slipped Disc editorial: The city of Berlin spends more on the arts than the British Government

A small fact to chew upon on the last working day before the Government axe falls, for a second time, on British arts.

The German capital, Berlin, provivdes just under one billion Euros in annual arts subsidies.

The British Government disbursed £1.04 billion last year through Arts Council England, but is cutting that sum year by year. It now threatens a further 15 percent cut, which would leave a country of 60 million with less to spend on the arts than a city of 3.5 million.

Absurd? You could say that….

We have long argued for structural reform in arts funding and for the abolition  of the ACE, presently headed by the Tory crony, Peter Bazalgette.

But to cut state support for an activity that delivers at least four times as much in foreign revenue alone as it receive in public grant would be a shot in the foot of one of the few viable growth sectors in British industry.

To cut the arts now would be a victory for party ideology over national interest. Go on, then, David Cameron. Crucify the arts.

angel of the north


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  1. Stephen Maddock says:

    Actually it’s much more striking than that – the ACE investment of £1.04 billion is the total investment in around 700 organisations over THREE years – meaning that Berlin invests three times as much in the arts as the whole of England.

    • I’m confused as to what we are comparing here.

      Berlin’s arts budget can be compared to London’s. There seems little point in comparing to what ACE spends across the UK – since this expenditure is in addition to that spent by cities, towns, etc., and bears no comparison here.

      The Spiegel article linked to says that Berlin actually spends €360m on the arts, with districts contributing an extra €120m (federal government then chucks in €400m more for “cultural beacons”, but that’s more comparable to the UK’s ACE spending than the city spend). The same article claims that London’s arts budget is €530m, which seems fair (and not far away from the Berlin total of €480); and New York $750m, which is around €560m. So we’re within a very similar ballpark here across the three capitals.

      We can even quickly check Spiegel’s figures for London too to see if they are in the right area – at a glance, a report from the LSE suggests that London spent £153 per head of population (roughly $240) on “religion, culture and recreation” in 2008/9, or just over £1 billion. That’s not all directed purely at “culture” or “arts”, so a figure of €530m for the arts feels in the right region.

      • Your calculations are incorrect. The 750 million dollars NYC spends is 562 million Euros, which only comes to 68 Euros per capita. Berlin spends 1 billion Euros which is 285 Euros per capita. That’s four times the per capita amount in New York.

        Those are numbers for all arts spending from all sources, i.e. all levels of government and private funding so the measures are quite comparable.

        What is the sum total of all arts spending in London from all sources? With that number, we can make concrete comparisons with the same sum for Berlin.

        • We should also remember that NYC spends far more for the arts than almost all other American cities. The per capita yearly arts spending in the USA from all sources is about 23 dollars which is 17 Euros.

          As I note below, here are some similar figures for other countries: Austria spends $369 per capita, Denmark $474, Norway $590, Germany $136, Italy $194, and France $265. The average is $289 – well over ten times American spending, both public and private.

          See my posts below for documentation.

        • William,
          (1) I merely asserted that $750 = €560, which you appear to agree with. What calculation was ‘wrong’? In any case, New York (and the USA) is off-topic in this thread, and I’m surprised you bring it up so readily. The OP compares Berlin to the UK.

          (2) Berlin does NOT spend €1bn / year on the arts – it’s actually €480m, as I note.
          (Federal gvmt throw in another €400m to ‘national beacons’, which takes the total to just under €1bn, but that is not the sum spent by *Berlin*)

          • I was referring to the sum total of all arts funding per capita which works as a valid cross-national comparison. It wasn’t clear to me that you were merely addressing absolute numbers. In many respects, they are less useful for comparison.

    • Stephen, it’s not quite so simple. In fact, over five years, ACE will be providing some £3bn of funding.
      The £1.04bn-over-three-years you cite is the funding for “National Portfolio Organisations” – or national beacons, which is quite different from looking at total ACE spending and support.

      Funnily enough, £1.04bn for ‘national beacons’ roughly = €1.2bn, which, over three years, is exactly the same as Germany’s federal government €400m / year for ‘national beacons’.
      Not so much difference, perhaps?

  2. I suppose we could say that the ACE funding across Britain delivers significantly more than the Berlin funding does – supports more artists, and reaches greater audiences.

    I’m not convinced that ACE’s funding results in a four-fold increase in foreign revenue. Are there any figures or studies which show this?

  3. The one billion Euros spent by the Berlin government on the arts is 9 times larger than the entire NEA in the USA.

    Berlin spends $380 per resident for the arts. The NEA spends 48 cents.

    If we include private donations for the arts in the USA, the sum per resident comes to about $23. That’s 1/16th the amount spent by Berlin.

    What we are seeing is the UK’s gradual move toward the American system of funding the arts. Similar pressures are evolving in Spain.

    • Greg Hlatky says:

      Nothing is stopping political monocultures like Chicago and Philadelphia from spending $380 per resident for the arts.

    • Thank you so much, William Osborne. I was just wondering where to find the comparative data with the USA.

      • Ana, info about the budget for the NEA is here:

        Overall philanthropic giving for the arts, culture, and humanities in the USA is listed in the 2012 annual report of Giving USA compiled by the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University. See:

        As the report shows, the arts, culture, and humanities receive 4% of total philanthropic giving for a sum of 13 billion. There is no further break down so we don’t know what went to “culture” (which can include zoos, parks, and even swimming pools) nor how much the “humanities” received which relates to education and research. What the arts actually ended up with is not specified and is likely about half the sum. This comes to about $23 per person for the arts when combined with governmental contributions.

        By comparison Austria spends $369 per capita, Denmark $474, Norway $590, Germany $136, Italy $194, and France $265. The average is $289 – well over ten times American spending, both public and private. The European data is published by The Council of Europe and is available here:

        • I don’t see data for Austria, Denmark, Norway at that link. Could you shed any light on sources?

          • At the URL above, click on the link on the left called “Funding.” Then click on the link “Monitoring Public Cultural Funding.” This is the direct url, but it doesn’t seem to work without the navigation I mention:


          • The direct url does work. I just noticed this report has been updated since I last looked at it (about six months ago.) The numbers are somewhat different due to the economic crisis and possibly different criteria for measures. The value of the Euro has also changed since my calculations. Still, the relative cross-national proportions remain largely in tact.

          • Note on the above table that in spite of everything, the Netherlands is still listed as spending more on culture as a % of GDP than any other European country. Too bad the UK isn’t listed. Perhaps a case of discretion being the better part of valor?

            Just a remark from the side line: the information about the subsidies that the Dutch government spends on ‘culture’ should be read in context: in Holland, the notion of ‘culture’ has been widened to such an extent that ANYTHING can be called ‘art’ or ‘culture’ which has resulted in the state support of nonsense, amateurish crap, moronic hobbies, all under the protection of the heading of ‘concept art’. The foundations handing-out the money, both for the visual arts and new music, are populated by people who see in the absence of any norm an enjoyable freedom to exercise their own completely random and uninformed selection norms. All this has created something like a tyranny of incompetence, a populism dressed-up as ‘culture’. All numbers in relation to art subsidies in Holland are thoroughly misleading; when cuts are felt necessary, the government immediately attacks the very things it should protect instead of stopping the waste of money on nonsense: it wanted to cancel the complete radio orchestra institution with 3 orchestras, choir, library, etc. After protests, ony partial cuts were carried-out, but the radio is again in the fire line. The Nationale Reisopera – the second important national opera company who made a name for themselves with excellent productions, travelling through the country – has folded-up; orchestras forced to merge; an internationally renown ballet company cancelled, etc. etc.

            Meanwhile, artists who don’t follow the populist party line are excommunicated (sometimes even legally) and seek their fortunes abroad. In 2011 the painter Wim Heldens won the BP Award of the National Portrait Gallery, a prestigeous international prize, which made him suddenly famous. But he has been rejected all his life for all the stipends, support programmes and the like the Dutch subsidy system had set-up to support ‘art of great quality’. Now he can more or less live by his art, but he is one of the proofs that the Dutch art subsidy system is a bankrupt, fraudulent fake, based upon ignorance and supported by populist sentiments.

            So, please don’t name Holland as a country where ‘the arts’ are generously subsidized by the state.

          • If your assessments are correct, the funding would still be the most generous in Europe as a % of GDP. If the funds are poorly spent, that is a different matter. Germans sometimes use the term Beamterkutlur, which means civil servant culture, in reference to the narrowed perspectives, insiderism, and mediocrity entrenched public funding systems can evolve toward. Here too, it is not so much the system as its poor use that is at issue. Do the Dutch have a similar word?

          • John Borstlap says:

            My point is, of course, that invoking Dutch figures is meaningless. No, the Dutch don’t have a word for Beamterkultur because the subsidy system for culture is plebejan, in effect it is a form of populist Beamterkultur through and through but the people concerned have no idea of it, like fish have no idea that they are swimming in water.

            To asses the support from society of culture, i.e. serious culture, it seems to me that one should consider both state support and private patronage. It seems best to have the state fully supporting the institutions (theatres, orchestras, operas, museums, radio stations etc.) and also giving them an earmarked budget for artists (composers, authors, painters) to be spent according to their own taste. If, in addition, private patronage would be stimulated (tax reductions and the like), maybe something like a healthy balance could be reached. If the state takes-on ALL financial responsibilities, as happened in the Netherlands, and with a crazy system where interest groups form the selection committees, the result is tyranny of the untalented, which is in the same time fully dependent upon political goodwill. Another result is the unwillingness of private patronage: ‘Why should I pay for something that the state should be paying for?’ so that private patronage never develops – as in Holland. And then, when this political goodwill – for reasons that have nothing to do with culture – suddenly disappears, both institutions and ‘artists’ are suddenly in the cold, without a private patronage tradition to fall back upon.

            All in all: figures don’t say much about whether a culture is florishing or not.

          • It is difficult to identity artists whose work will be significant, so to support one good one we have to support 500 who are bad and let history sort out the rest. America uses a private funding system. I wouldn’t say its culture is flourishing. Its worse than Europe. (I had a typo above. That should read Beamterkultur.)

          • John Borstlap says:

            “It is difficult to identity artists whose work will be significant, so to support one good one we have to support 500 who are bad and let history sort out the rest.”

            That may seem reasonable, but in practice we see that, for instance, the Dutch mediocrities running the subsidy foundations are perfectly capable of spotting real talent which is carefully kept-out of the system, since they threaten to upset the apple cart. If you pay for tinned excrement (like ‘Merde di artista’ by Manzoni’) in the same context as paying for a real and good painting, it will be very clear that the crap is indeed crap. But if you subsidise exclusively crap, you can create a myth around it, as if art has developed into a generalized crappy state and that we have to be happy with the outcome.

            Also it has to be said that almost all great artists of the past were appreciated during their life time, and after a period in the beginning of their career, eventually appreciated and considered ‘significant’. The effect of their work was felt during their career and often influenced developments, The misunderstood genius whose work only got understood after his death, is an exception. The ‘ultimate value’ of an artist was established, and never very firmly, after his death in some ‘canon’ which is re-interpreted again and again, and finds ever new balances.

          • True. And many mediocre artists were also appreciated in their time but now forgotten. Sorting them out can be a challenge, though I agree that cronyism and low standards are norms in the art world — and regardless of the funding system.

        • I’m pretty certain the NYC department of cultural affairs spends more than the entire NEA.

  4. Sam McElroy says:

    I recall the words of Sir Simon Rattle. When asked by Newsnight why he was leaving the UK for Germany, he said candidly, “I want to work in a country where art is considered a necessity, and not a luxury.”

  5. Well, but Berlin lets the rest of Germany pay for that via Länderfinanzausgleich. Berlin is the region that gets the most out of the system, just look at the nice red spot on the map at the Wikipedia page of Länderfinanzausgleich. It is always easy to spend someone else’s money. I’m not so sure that this behaviour deserves praise.

    • Strengthening Berlin as a cultural capital benefits all of Germany.

    • Fabio Fabrici says:

      Many of Berlin’s cultural institutions are to the benefit of the whole country and beyond. And then there was the war and subsequent economic drain of the East German provinces which is not reverted until today. Bavaria for instance was a backward rural state until the war and then benefited from the capital flight from the Berlin and the Eastern provinces and today can help finance those cultural institutions in the East. Isn’t it great to have all this cultural assets?

      • Don’t get me wrong. Me being here strongly suggests that I’m most likely a classical music fan. Thus I also profit from this redistribution and I can appreciate the results these policies bring. However, I’ve no idea what the Bavarians who need to pay for that think, as I’m neither German nor I live in Germany. Unlike you, I just think it would be nice to be concerned about that question at least a bit. As I wrote before, it’s always easy to spent someone else’s money.

  6. Abigail Clifford says:

    Wouldn’t it be great if we could swap our Eton/ Oxbridge politicians for some cultured German ones?
    Just who exactly in Britain benefits from anything our politicians do?

  7. Berlin is going to be the cultural capital of Europe, and possibly also in political terms – since Germany is the biggest European country and economically the strongest (it is now paying-off the debts of other countries’ economic problems). In spite of its history, or rather thanks to its OTHER history, in Germany culture is considered as a benign influence upon the population and not a luxury, so Rattle is right. Other European countries should learn from the German example if they want to preserve something of their own civilization. Somehow the UK does not seem to be a European country at all, like the Netherlands who are currently cutting as much as possible of the art subsidies.

    • Timon Wapenaar says:

      If by “economically strongest” you mean “least dirty shirt in the pile”, then OK.

      • Fabio Fabrici says:

        And your point is? Are there anything than dirty shirts in today’s economic world? Just because there is one nation who has the mightiest military and thus can force their basically worthless paper money on anyone doesn’t make that pile any cleaner either, quite to the contrary.
        Maybe the Vatican is clean? (haha). Or Switzerland (blood money in the banks). Monte Carlo? Cayman Islands? Where is the clean pile?

        • Timon Wapenaar says:

          There is no clean shirt. That is the point. But as this thread is ostensibly concerned with the capacity of the German government to fund the arts, I thought I might stick my head above the parapet, and address the perception that Germany is in some way above, beyond, or exempt from the fiscal risky business which has defined the status quo. Whether it is able to fund the arts so generously in the future is a matter for debate.

          • Fabio Fabrici says:

            As a well traveled global citizen I can testify to the deep rooted affection for the arts and culture in Germany in particular. Funding always is a problem, but where is a need, there is a way…
            If you feel that culture and arts are a necessity rather than a luxury, you don’t feel that spending a lot of money for it is a “generosity” but rather a necessity. It’s all a matter of perspective.

            Pretty much all that makes our civilization great has been achieved by the arts and by science.

            Now let’s bail out some more banks while we enjoy the free fall down from civilization back to animal kingdom.

          • John Borstlap says:

            But then, animals cannot run a concert hall or an opera house. We would only be able to see Janacek’s ‘The Clever Fox’.

  8. Theodore McGuiver says:

    I think it’s misleading to imply the Tories are anti-arts. I remember a New Labour directive on culture dating from Blair’s incumbency which outlined how one could spend a day away from work. There was talk of walks in nature, restaurants, cinema and clubbing but not one word about theatre, classical concerts or opera, presumably too ‘elitist’ i.e. requiring concentration, for those heinous hypocites. Anybody recall a golden age of arts subsidies under any Labour government?

  9. Thanks to Norman for posting this to begin with, and thanks to all for such thought-provoking comments! As to Theodore McGuiver’s post about elitism … my own observation is that pasting the label of “elitism” on art is a very effective way for governments of *any* ideological stripe to get out of arts funding. Which is, of course, elitist, because it limits access to art. A pernicious practice indeed!

  10. Rgiarola says:

    I’ve hadn’t read the comments and I’m sorry if I’m naive, but it is like it since the 70′s or since when I’ve started to follow the issue. No?

  11. In my thirty odd years as a professional musician I only once received direct support from the Arts Council. I have no problem with that, indeed I can see the dangers of trying to target individual musicians, composers or performers, as there will always be winners and losers and the inevitable question of what qualifies a beaureaucrat to make artistic judgements. However, it would be great if there were more investment in the infrastructure of the performing arts. When I visit Japan for example, I am always amazed by the quantity and quality of concert halls. I assume they are subsidised to some extent because they are a fraction of the cost to hire and thus it is possible to actually make money from a concert. Something I never achieved at the Wigmore Hall unless I had a sponsor. Moreover, in my home town of Harrow (population 160,000) I am ashamed to say there is not one purpose built concert hall and our so called Arts Centre does not even possess a grand piano. Unsurprisingly the youth of our country long ago concluded that classical music was a marginal activity of little value in the culture of GB reflected in the fact that in my classes at two of our leading music colleges, UK students are a rarity.

  12. Fabio Fabrici says:

    This whole editorial is about comparing apples and oranges. National budgets and city budgets for the arts are something very different. The city of London and the city of New York both spend hundreds of millions for culture for their respective cities alone.

    • I seriously doubt London’s per capita spending is near Berlin’s. In my last post above I compare total spending from all levels of government and private donations. The numbers in the USA, even by the most generous estimates, still remain far below the standards of almost all developed countries.

      • One example, Berlin has 3 year-round opera houses. New York has only the Met with a seven month season, and now the NYCO without even a home doing a handful of performances per year. There are 5 or 6 fulltime professional orchestras in Berlin, but only one in NYC.

      • William, see my posting above. London’s spending is higher than Berlin’s, as a city.
        Sure, that amounts to less ‘per capita’, but so what?

        • Per capita spending is important as a measure of access to the arts.

          • That’s a bold statement. Levels of spending do not directly reflect – necessarily – either the quality of the output produced nor the access to it. As John B notes above, high levels of spending are not necessarily indicative of high levels of appealing, quality output.

          • Empirical evidence shows per capita funding is a good indicator of access. For example, the USA has low per capita arts funding and has only 3 cities in the top 100 for opera performances per year. Good or bad, you can’t see it if it ain’t there.

  13. Michal Kaznowski says:

    Many thanks to Stephen Maddock for pointing out the funding gap between Berlin and the UK. I am always disappointed on how few real statistics about the Arts are available. In particular I would dearly like to know how much per capita in Euros the UK spends on Arts. I believe Germany spends around €100, Norway, Sweden and Denmark more with Finland topping out over €300 per person. I believe the UK is around €50 – but I would like to know. Is there a web site with good classical music and arts funding statistics?

    As for comparisons with Arts funding in the USA. I do feel that it is a false comparison. The way US society is structured is so different from the EU countries that everyday goods and services can cost far less than in the UK, because companies don’t have the same level of taxes as in the EU which are used to run our social services and public support.

    It is much more meaningful to make EU comparisons.

    • Michal,
      I doubt comparable figures are readily available. You would need to take into account both city / local spending, which is often wrapped up within “recreation / culture / arts” and not split into arts spending, in addition to national funding.

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