Wednesday, 2 January, 2013
Sunday, 2 December, 2012
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Economists all over the world agree that the UK's coalition government is completely incompetent. Absolutely nothing they do works, their ideas are all bad ideas and no matter how terrible things get they stick to their guns and just make everything worse.
So it continued last week with the Chancellor of the Exchequer's "autumn statement" that was long on doom and gloom and short on smiles. One particularly hilarious news headline went along the line of "cuts to fund spending!"
Facing yet more cuts to arts funding, Arts Council England (ACE) released a statement which rolled out the same old talking points about how £1 of investment returns £6 of something else.
The Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) countered with a statement using their standard talking points about deficits, sharing, pain and worthless poor people. (or words to that effect)
We've all been here before and none of it worked the last time to anybody's benefit. The arts took a beating and this country is more of a mess than it was.
So let's change tack a little shall we. Let's change the discussion completely and talk about freedom. You know what freedom is right? It's the mother's milk for all the right wing basket cases and their soldier hugging, body scanner buying buddies.
Funding the arts is, perhaps, one of the single most important expressions of freedom you can imagine. It is a persons fundamental right to have the freedom of choice to do whatever it is they want to do with their life. It is their life after all.
If a person wants to be a poet, painter, dancer, sculptor or a food service employee then that is their choice. It's not the government's choice and it's not your choice, it's their choice.
What could possibly be a more grandiose expression of personal freedom than to choose to embark on a career that is the very definition of the road less travelled? (that would be working as an artist, not a food service employee!)
Call us idealistic all you want but since when was being idealistic a bad thing?
"But wait!" the nay sayers cry, "be an artist all you want, but pay your own way, if the market wants it you can survive on your own".
It's a fair point. It's wrong, but it's fair.
Governments all over the world (well, some of them at least) go to great lengths to try and engineer the right economic conditions so lots of disparate industries can survive in the "free marketplace".
There is no free market for nuclear submarines, fighter planes or tanks. The entire defence industry is one gigantic, subsidised boondoggle for huge corporations. Without subsidy there would be no market for military hardware. The market was created artificially by governments.
So why is it different when it comes to the arts?
Governments provide all sorts of financial incentives for all kinds of industries to thrive. Tax incentives, business grants, loans, infrastructure investment and more besides are all geared to artificially levelling out the playing field.
Simply because certain aspects of society cannot compete in the "market place" does not mean they are not vitally important to that society.
Subsidising the arts is nothing more than creating the right economic conditions so that the arts and all the good things that go with them can exist in a capitalist environment.
Also, funding the arts is a more potent expression of "freedom" then all the soldiers, fighter planes and attack helicopters in the world. They also have the added advantage of being considerably cheaper and a lot less accidentally lethal.
From the largest companies all the way to the plucky individual, subsidising the arts is, for the most part, about investing in people and counting on their ability to be more than the numbers they enter on a tax return.
It is the single minded and completely ignorant view of far too many people that the only way to measure an individuals contribution to the world is to look at how much money they earn and calculate how much tax they pay.
A recent dance education project we filmed highlighted an instance of a young girl who had no friends. She took part in the project, a social barrier is broken and that young girl now has friends. It might seem trivial to some but probably means everything in the world to that young girl.
Without the money invested in the project and the dancers who made that project work at least one individual would almost certainly be facing continued social isolation.
When Bernd Neumann the German Culture Minister announced an 8% increase in funding for his country's culture sector (taking it to over £1Billion annually) he said;
"[this money is not a] grant, but it is an essential investment in the future of our society."
The point we are making here is that the arguments in favour of arts funding are not economic they are social and moral in nature.
If ACE and our so-called "arts leaders" keep trotting out the same £1 to £6 numbers then the results will be exactly the same as before. It's time to sing a different song.
We're going to say this one more time; The arts, always arguing about the wrong things!