If you’re a regular follower of this blog, you’re probably wondering why I’m writing on a Tuesday: I’ve been writing one post a week, on a Friday at 5pm for months now. There is a reason. If you are, like the majority, though not all, of my readers, based in the UK, you will probably be aware that we have a general election happening on Thursday. I want to write a little bit about arts funding and arts education, which are becoming more and more disparaged, and viewed as unnecessary, sometimes even elitist luxuries.
Now, I should start by saying that I absolutely agree that, when compared to food, housing and safety, access to arts and arts education is a secondary priority. That said, I think you should consider your candidates’ and parties’ positions on funding for the arts and funding for arts education, and, ideally, vote for those who at the very least won’t continue to cut funding for these, and preferably for those who want to increase them. (Side note. This post is deliberately being written just before an election, and therefore the most relevant thing to do is vote. However, our role in our democracy isn’t over on the 9th June. Continue to pester your representatives, whether you voted for them or not, to remind them of the importance of funding for the arts and other issues which are important to you.)
When we look back on the past, we judge societies on what they’ve left in legacy; both positive, like art or writing, and negative, like terrible human rights abuses. We know that arts are important to humanity, and most people will agree that human nature is better expressed in beautiful music than it is in the complex intricacies of the hypothetical value of tiny percentages of companies on the stock market. But funding to the arts in the UK is being cut enormously, and cuts to schools are affecting their teaching of arts most strongly.
Arts, in all their forms (music, dance, theatre, literature…) are on the national curriculum, but are being squeezed out of many schools, particularly those with the least funding available, who simply can’t afford the teaching and equipment for arts education. This widens the gap between those who can afford a more privileged education for their children (either by being able to afford to live in areas with better state schools or by paying for private education) and those who cannot: if only those who are already better off (the single clearest indicator of school success is parental wealth) have access to arts education there is something outrageously wrong with society. If a child whose learning will be facilitated by creative opportunities cannot have those opportunities because their parents bought a house in the “wrong” area of their city, something needs to change. Please look at the candidates in your constituency’s views on funding for education, and vote for those who intend to at the very least stop cutting funding to education, and preferably increase the funding available, so that all children have the opportunity to learn as many subjects as they deserve, and focus on those (arts or other) which are best suited to their interests and abilities.
For me, there is very little as worthwhile as the shared experience of theatre: a group of humans assemble in the same space, experience joy, sadness, laughter together, and leave that little bit happier. Subsidised theatre (theatre which exists because of grants from the government or charities) is usually cheaper than commercial theatre (theatre which makes money from investments and ticket sales) and tries to reach certain objectives that commercial theatre doesn’t seek to, necessarily: it explores issues that may not be considered elsewhere, and, most importantly, it seeks to reach audiences that don’t usually attend theatre. This can be because theatre rarely goes to certain towns (the Arts Council England has strategic touring grants for theatre to go to places which have less theatre available) or by trying to reach groups of people who attend theatre less frequently (for financial or other reasons). If the government cuts that funding, these people simply won’t get that theatre. To date, I’ve worked in companies that make subsidised theatre (Metta and Fuel). The work we do to make art is, in my opinion, necessary for us to be the best society we can be, and I urge you to vote to keep it in existence.
That’s all for this public service announcement. Please share this post to as many people as you can in advance of the election. I will be back to my normal posting schedule and content on Friday, with a post about an amazing workshop I attended about producing theatre!
P.S. I don’t claim to have all the answers to political questions, but, for what it is worth, I will be voting for Julian Huppert, the Liberal Democrat candidate in Cambridge, and I joined the Liberal Democrat party, because I think they represent my views about the vast majority of issues most closely. If you want to know more about what I think, you can follow me on twitter, but even if you disagree with me in every way possible, please vote on Thursday.