You'd have to be living in a cave not realise that something pretty nasty is happening in England right now. And of course, it involves the root cause of most major problems in the world, money. Yes, thats right I am talking about The Cuts, or The Slashes, a name I consider more appropriate, proposed in the 2010 Spending Review.
Its taken me a while to master the courage up to brave blogging about this topic, as my political (both governmental and dance/arts) knowledge is pretty atrocious, and I don't have the inclination or desire to read up. Because of this I feel a little out of depth talking about these topics, and most of my opnions are formed on an 'instincts' kind of basis. I also tried tackling the topic when I was ill. Bad move. I gave up after two days of trying because my poorly self really couldn't cope with the complexity of the issue. I would have quite happily left it at that and not picked up the topic again, but I feel the 2010 spending review, and the changes that are taking place in this country, are too important not to acknowledge.
As a new graduate it is quite unnerving to see the industry I am trying to carve a niche in have its funds greatly reduced. But because of the fact I am a new graduate its hard for me to fully grasp the scale of the impact that these financial cuts will have, as I haven't been working professionally and requiring funding. In a way I feel 'lucky' to be an emerging, rather than established artist, at this time - as they say ignorance is bliss. I can't know what I am missing if I have never experienced it.
Funding is of course a complex issue, funding art even more so. There is a David Shrigley annimation posted on YouTube by 'SavingTheArts' in response to the cuts, and just a scrolling through the comments posted underneath is a revealing insight. The comments range from the down right stupid 'I hate artists', to the inside opinion 'As a practitioner I have little sympathy for the self indulgent who whinge about funding. For too long the arts world has held its hand out and squandered much of what has been handed over.' And the philosophical (this is my particular favourite, please excuse the bad language) 'I think the arts are like trees - you think they're incidental but when they're gone, life looks shit'. I couldn't have put it better myself. Over all though the feeling I got when reading the comments was one of great division, and the sense that this time could mark an important historical point in the history of British art. I just hope the ending is positive.
For weeks now I have been trying to write this blog, and work out to figure actually what it is I am trying to say. With my limited knowledge and experience what is my opinion? As an emerging artist how do I feel about the situation unfolding? I think the answers to my questions are ever evolving, and will change with new information I read or experiences I have working in the industry, but right now I've come to the conclusion that there are a number of issues that anger me, generally, not just in relation to artistic industry.
Firstly, given the state of the economic climate cuts are no doubt inevitable, but its the extent, extreme nature and seeming, to my simple eyes, unfairness of the cuts that really worries me. For example, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport is facing cuts up to 30%, described by Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate as 'the greatest crisis in the arts and heritage since government funding began in 1940'. I am no economist (anyone who has had a glance at my bank account will see that) but the extent and severity of what was proposed in the spending review seems pretty unsustainable and crippling.
The Arts Council England have been asked to reduce its operating costs by 50%, after already cutting its overheads by 21% in the last eighteen months. That seems like a pretty impossible task for any business to do and survive. Perhaps the government should try it, I am sure they could easily find 21% worth of overheads to reduce - maybe via their expenses accounts, or their subsidised food in parliament or their personal photographers or their chauffeurs....
In contrast to this the overseas aid budget has been protected from cuts and will rise to £11.5bn over the next four years. Now, call me selfish, but surely if we are in as much of a mess as polititicians and the media claim, and with the government cutting money left right and centre then surely we need to sort our own problems out before we dish out more cash we don't have.
Something else which concerns me is the complete lack of consideration of the 'bigger picture' in relation to effect of the huge slashes to the arts. Take for example Somerset Council which recently announced a 100% cut of its direct grants. According to the Guardian;
'...a group of Somerset councillors proposed ending all the direct grants, totalling almost £160,000, that the council currently gives to 10 arts organisations - including the Brewhouse, other busy theatres in Frome and Strode, and Somerset Film, a production company in Bridgwater. This figure is close to half its total arts spending......For the many people opposed to the cut - and several hundred protestors turned up at the council last week, including the actor Samuel West and the conductor Charles Hazlewood - the question is one of proportion. Local government spending was slashed in the comprehensive spending review by 26%, so these companies were braced for cuts. But the protesters argue that they should be in the region of 30%, in line with that overall reduction...'
I am baffled by what councils hope to achieve with huge cuts to the arts. They generally make up very small amounts of the total budgets anyway. The cuts Somerset Council are proposing are just 0.0004% of the council's total spend. And yet the 10 companies the grants support bring in more than £3.5m in revenue to the county.
The sceptic in me wants to suggest that by cutting arts funding councils can be seen to be 'doing something' by the wider public, and with the least upset, artists being a rather small crowd, and arts/artists don't matter or contribute to society after all, do they?
Back to the bigger picture, and my favourite quote 'the arts are like trees - you think they're incidental but when they're gone, life looks shit'. Art has a positive impact on people's lives. It teaches. It observes society and reflects it back on its self. It calls for change and it documents history. It opens minds. It makes people feel better about themselves. And if people feel positive they contribute positively to society as a whole, are happier and healthier and, although I have no fact to prove it, I feel pretty confident saying they probably cost the government less money.
While its easy for artists and non artists to say that the arts shouldn't be so reliant on government money and we need a new system for funding (to read an interesting article on philanthropy click here), all of which quite possibly is true (I wouldn't know I haven't experienced the minefield that is funding yet....) but this is the system we have now, and slashing it not a positive step in nurturing the arts of the future. Have those politicians never heard the story of The Hare and The Tortoise? Slow and steady wins the race. Change is inevitable, but why go for anything other than constructive change?
A idea that featured in the comments under David Shrigley's video on more than one occasion was that artist were resilient, their creativity often increasing as the money decreases and that art would always exist, funding or no funding. Which is all very well and fine, and true - art will always exist, but on a very fundemental level why should artists constantly struggle? I trained for four years, just like many other professions - but most professions don't need another job to fund the job they want to do.
Most importantly its the funding, the subsidies and the government money that often allows the art to be shared with a wider audience. And isn't that the point?
For a very thought provoking speech, by Charlott Higgins, Guardian arts writer, and of course the comments. click here
To see the David Shrigley video click here
To read an interesting article by Sir Nicholas Kenyon, managing director of the Barbican Centre click here