Whether it’s the NHS, the Police Force or university tuition fees, the government spending cuts have been gracing the front pages of Britain’s newspapers almost every day for the last nine months. With the nation reeling from threats to frontline public services, the prospect of unemployment, and the increase in VAT, it is easy to consider the arts as expendable and cuts to them as trivial. But it’s important that we are aware of the cuts being made and the effects that they might have on our culture and artistic legacy. The government has currently implemented a 15% cut to national museums and galleries, with the possibility of up to 100% funding cuts being administered by local authorities. Quangos such as the UK Film Council and the Museums, Libraries, and Archives Council have been, or will be, scrapped completely. In addition to this the Arts Council England has received a 29.6% cut; a reduction that will inconceivably change the face of Britain’s art and culture. Dubbed ‘Cuts D-Day’, the 30th of March will reveal both the true extent of the arts cuts and the fate of the 1,340 organisations who have applied for funding from the Arts Council.
For a soon to be arts graduate, the cuts are especially worrying; as if the impending end of my degree and the nasal tones of the prophetic Arts Graduate Unemployment Song aren’t stressful enough, cuts to the arts sector will add further damage to the already dire jobs market. I think it’s time we reminded ourselves why the arts are important.
As Picasso poetically put it, “the purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls”. Although art isn’t necessary in the same way that the NHS is, life is duller without it. An integral part of British culture, art influences how we live; from our views and opinions to the colour of our wallpaper and the clothes that we wear, the arts are vital to our society. Britain’s film, theatre, fashion, music and art are something we should be proud of; they are stimulating, inspirational and, of course, enjoyable.
We define British culture by the artistic achievements of its past and present. When we study the renaissance we use the work of Shakespeare, Milton, and Spenser (to name a few) in an attempt to understand their society. Aside from the 1966 World Cup win, we define Britain in the 60’s by The Beatles, Pop Art, and Mary Quant. Art defines each decade, century, or civilisation and acts as its lasting legacy. Our generation will be remembered, perhaps in part for our political turmoil, troubled economy and CO2 emissions, but mainly for our contributions to art and culture. In the wise words of Margaret Atwood “when any civilisation is dust and ashes…art is all that’s left over”.
Boasting some of the most iconic museums and galleries in the world, and with thriving theatrical and musical industries, Britain has been having what some are describing as a Golden Age of art. An increasing number of cultural attractions have, through generous amounts of funding, been able to improve their facilities and offer free entry. It has taken years for Britain to create a vibrant art culture that is the envy of the world but it could take no time at all to destroy it. Cutting investment in the arts will lesson opportunities, restrict access to arts and culture, and limit the creative potential of the younger generation. But these cuts are now inevitable and, some would argue, necessary. In spite of the fact that, as the Arts Council outlines on their website, “any cut to the arts will have a disproportionate effect for a relatively tiny saving to the public purse”, it is undeniable that taking more funding away from frontline public services will leave them floundering in a way that it will not leave the arts. While these cuts will change the arts as our generation has known them, it will not mean that they will disappear entirely.
Already there are organisations popping up which are finding new approaches and adapting to the changing context of Britain’s art culture. We can protect our artistic legacy and the organisations and projects that are threatened by the cuts. An example of this is the newly formed We Did This organisation. With “Art for everyone, funded by everyone” as its tagline, We Did This is definitely one of the many organisations that will be formed to help the arts thrive in the face of financial difficulty. Artists and art appreciators alike are showing their support for the arts; the recent ‘Save Our Libraries’ protests proved that Britain won’t let the arts go down without a fight. Art in the 2010s doesn’t have to be remembered for discarded libraries, abandoned artistic organisations and increasing gallery entry prices. The nature of art is to adapt and our artists, musicians, actors and writers are resilient and resourceful; the face of our art culture is already changing. ▪
Show your support or find out more about the arts cuts:
Culture Cuts Blog on www.guardian.co.uk
Published in the Spring 2011 issue of Razz My Berries Magazine.