I long ago learned that one reason why I lost friends was because when they asked me my opinion I told them it, very honestly. It doesn’t work to well, and thankfully I am a bit more socially aware now, although my opinions haven’t become more popular. I am about to share my latest with you now – but you are warned, you may not agree.
I’ve recently become aware of a campaign to Save the Arts – and here is the controversial bit – I’m not sure I totally agree. Now, don’t get me wrong, if I was handed a nice big cheque to go off and do nothing but write I would take it as quickly as I could. I am a hypocrite, and I’m totally fine with that, I’m not trying to be a martyr or a saint for my ideals. I have signed the petition, because I do believe in arts funding, however there are two parts to it which make me feel uncomfortable.
Firstly there is the economic argument that is put forward. We now have research that shows that the arts creates money in this country, more than is invested in them. That’s great. However, which parts of the arts are these? In the brilliant animation on the Save the Arts website we are told that eight out of the top ten visitor attractions in the country are museums. So, what are people going to see in these museums? Are they all filled with contemporary British art, or is a large proportion of them colonial works which we have essentially stolen from other countries? Where are these museums, the south-east of England? If we use an economic argument to defend arts funding we could win in the short-term, but there is no guarantee that these are the only cuts, there could be other rounds. Where then will leave the avant-guard film festival, the poet who visits schools, that theater on the Hebrides, the group who try to get paintings by new artists into hospitals? It leaves them with very little to defend themselves, because the benefits of these arts can not and should not be measured in monetary terms. If we defend the arts on an economic argument we run the risk of weakening the arts in the long term by collaborating with the idea that the value of everything can be measured.
The second thing I feel uncomfortable with is the essential role of “the artist” within this. Given the fact that these cuts are going to affect everyone, and will be made on services which have much more impact on people’s lives than the arts (for all that they are enriching) artists defending their lot could have a tendency to look self-centered, and for many will just reinforce the idea of the arts as being elitist. Artists of all types are considerably talented, and able to articulate and express themselves, concepts and ideas in a way that many can not. For “artists” to use those talents not just to defend themselves but to defend those who will be the most effected by the cuts, those who don’t have the same level of articulation and expression would prove to the public the usefulness and also egalitarian nature of the arts – that they truly are for everyone.
Perhaps I am being incredibly assumptive. Perhaps all the 27,516 people who have signed the petition are at this moment working on terrifyingly emotive collaborations exploring the effect of a properly funded care system on neglected and abused children. But far too often our culture appears to feel that a petition or a Facebook group are all you need to take political action.
Please, prove me wrong.