i value the arts

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:

http://wedidthis.org.uk/

http://savethearts-uk.blogspot.com/

http://www.ivaluethearts.org.uk/

http://www.whatnextarts.com/

Culture Cuts Blog on www.guardian.co.uk

Published in the Spring 2011 issue of Razz My Berries Magazine.

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what, more arts cuts?



Save our libraries protests took place up and down the country yesterday. Protesters, reacting against yet more arts funding cuts, staged mass ‘shh-ins’ and flashmob book readings to express their support for Britain’s libraries. Appealing against 400 planned library closures, authors, artists, and readers alike joined forces to protect our library system.

Many protesters entered libraries and took out the maximum they were allowed. The theory being that libraries cannot be labelled underused, or indeed closed, when most of the books are out on loan. Authors such as Philip Pullman, Mark Haddon, and Kate Mosse made appearances yesterday to lead protests against the cuts and support is even being expressed across the Atlantic by international authors like Margaret Atwood.

Only 160 years after the passing of the Public Libraries Act, an initiative that aimed to raise educational standards and make literature available for all, our libraries are under threat. They are being targeted for cuts because they are unprofitable. But surely there are other measures of success?

Newspapers like The Guardian and The Independent have been covering the fight against library closures and interviewing those who will be affected:

Isabel Anderson, nine, suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome and has been off school for over a year. Her local library in Wiveliscombe, Somerset, has helped her not to fall behind in her school work. She is too tired to travel further away. “I use my library two or three times a week for books, DVDs and story tapes. When I was really ill, libraries provided me with something to do and helped me to keep up with school.”

Ruth Corboy, 42, is a mother from Milton Keynes and a regular user of Stony Stratford Library, where members have emptied the shelves in protest. “Our library is one of the few community spaces that mothers still feel safe sending their children. It has been critical to my daughter’s education, and she frequently uses it. Visits from authors and teachers provide entertainment and inspiration that supplements their schooling.”

(taken from an article by The Independent)

Bettie Wighting, who refuses to reveal her age but is, whispers someone who knows, past 90. ”I live right near,” she says, “so I come three times a week. I read two or three books in a week, you see. Non-fiction mostly, history, biographies. But it’s not just books, it’s information; knowing what’s going on. Like when they change the bin times at Christmas.”
She gestures at a steady flow of visitors, each greeted (often by name, frequently first) by two librarians. This library, Bettie says, is friends. And knowledge, of course: “My children, when they were young, they were in here all the time. If Mr Snow doesn’t know the answer, I’d say – he was librarian here for 30 years – well he’ll find you a book that does.”

(taken from an article by The Guardian)

I personally have fond memories of hours spent pouring over books in the library as a child. We would go once a week, take out three books each and enter drawing competitions or read-a-thons. It wasn’t just a library, it was a community centre and a place for people of all ages to meet. My local library was an exciting place to go and fuelled my love of books… and it’s probably partly the reason why I am now studying English at university.

Our library service is invaluable and needs protecting. Images from the Guardian website are drawing on war propaganda to inspire the masses to stand up for our libraries, questioning our individual responsibility and promoting a collective and national effort. I would imagine that this propaganda-esque campaign feels especially poignant for those who recall that Britain’s libraries were not even shut during the world wars.

The reason that libraries were created is still a valid one. An article from the Guardian website outlines how one library in  nearby Somerset, where 20 out of 34 libraries are under threat of closure, tried to illustrate this point: “a hooded “book snatcher” will descend on the library, stealing books from children and the elderly inside, and leaving them instead with signs that say “illiteracy”, “poor life chances”, and “social isolation”.” Free reading material is a right and one that future generations should not be deprived of. In our increasingly digital and anonymous society, our country needs more, not less, public spaces. Libraries build communities, they are a place of learning, fun, and interaction.

Watch Somerset’s ‘We Love Libraries’ video here.

Are YOU guilty of neglecting your local library?

Exeter Central Library, for example, offers children’s, teen, and adult fiction and non-fiction, study materials, local information, printers, photocopiers, internet access, audio books, CD’s, DVD’s, language courses, reading groups, a training centre, computer taster sessions, and wi fi.

Show your support for Britain’s libraries! Rather than finding a cheap copy on Amazon or succumbing to the pull of cheap e-books, go to your local library instead.  Whether you borrow one book or take out your full allowance, taking advantage of our libraries while we still can might just make a difference to their future.

Published on http://www.razzmag.wordpress.com February 6th 2011.