The nation has decided, our votes have been cast and the UK will be leaving the European Union. The winning side has presented us with a new future. That is democracy. The losers must now make the best of it and be kind to those whose choices were not our own.

In the arts the ‘out’ voters were less visible with 96% of the members of the Federation of Creative Industries for ‘remain’ for reasons of trade, free movement, regional support, sector specific funding and IP protection. Across the Channel Culture Action Europe called for its UK friends to continue to ‘help shape the European Project’. However the choice we were all handed, a choice driven by political power play, was a simple binary choice, one that had no space for nuance or subtlety.

As the date drew closer the campaigns became louder, more simplistic. The ‘outers’ wanted to ‘take our country back’, remainers to ‘make us stronger’ both slogans lacking any cultural dimension or recognition of the shared heritage at the heart of EU policy making. With everything reduced to soundbites, dry economic statistics or empty promises, a meaningful answer to the question of our relationship with our European partners became impossible.

The choice was not simply binary and should never have been presented as such. As a German artist resident in the UK whose status is now uncertain said to us, “a person should not be asked to decide for themselves whether they need open heart surgery, they would consult an expert, this question was not a good one for a referendum. Now I am heartbroken”

A project built on trust

Two days before the vote, ISIS Arts was in the Slovenia capital Ljubljana for a partners meeting with 20 or so cultural organisations and artists from Corners, a platform supported by a major Creative Europe grant to bring together artists and communities on the edges of Europe. Our British artists with their fellow European colleagues move freely between countries without visas or work permits – they can spend a few days or more, earn a few euros and move on to the next project. They can choose to sell their work without punitive trade tariffs and benefit from joint planning and practice across borders. Together we have all built a complex, enquiring project built on trust, mutual risk and above all a generosity of spirit.

I voted to remain. I had little interest in protecting our sovereignty any more than a French, German or Croatian citizen nor interest in being ‘strong’. I voted ‘remain’ because I am European and British (and a product of our bygone Empire). I voted ‘remain’ because working collectively is always better than working alone behind our individual fences. Europe is better today because of this. Not only because there have been no wars between member states but because together we have made it greener and cleaner, we have invested in research, in development, in citizens rights and we have generously put in resources to share with those who need most.

None of us know where we will be in 12 months and what kinds of deals we can strike. But we do know what we have lost. Will what we get be better, cheaper, fairer, kinder?

Our place in Europe feels downgraded; our cultural ties loosened, our futures divergent. I hope that we can salvage as much of the spirit of collaboration and cultural cross-fertilization that has been the driving force of our continent and our union for so long.

We must now all strive to do so.

More on

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