IF YOU HAVE TIME TO READ THIS, YOU HAVE TIME TO SAVE THE ARTS FROM FUNDING CUTS
First published by The Guardian (2010)
In September, I was asked by Papercut Theatre to write a short play in response to the impending arts cuts. The piece was staged as part of Cut Off at Theatre 503. At the time, I felt enthusiastic about the project. The arts community was pulling together to oppose the approaching cuts. Petitions were being signed, the Arts Funding site was buzzing with discussion and I Value the Arts twibbons were all over Twitter.
Next week Papercut is reviving the show, this time at the Tristan Bates. But when I was asked to contribute again, my first thought was, "What's the point?" The current situation feels different to the one in September. Most of us are concentrating on surviving the cuts rather than fighting them. The focus has shifted from the plight of the arts to other more alarming aspects of the comprehensive spending review – such as cuts to higher education, housing, local government and public sector jobs.
When the Save the Arts petition was launched, I fully believed that it would collect the 100,000 signatures needed to instigate a Commons debate, as outlined in the coalition agreement. The arts appear to be more popular than ever. Seventy-six per cent of the adult population in England engaged with the arts last year, and regularly funded organisations attracted 85 million attendances. The arts community has put forward strong arguments against funding cuts. The arts are great value for money and make a significant contribution to Britain's economy. They transform communities and improve our quality of life. But how persuasive are these arguments for the average man on the street? Especially when we are all facing more direct threats to the quality of our lives? Only 60,000 people have signed the petition. That's just 0.001% of the UK population. Perhaps the arts don't really deserve saving after all.
What's really surprising is that many people with a vested interest in safeguarding public funding for the arts have failed to register their support. According to NESTA, over a million people in the UK work in the creative industries. A friend who works for an RFO has yet to sign the petition. He fully intends to sign it, he just hasn't got round to doing it yet.
We are all busy, but if we focus too exclusively on individual battles, there is a danger we will lose the overall war. The DCMS's four-year plan implies a slow death for the Arts Council. As much as we might grumble about ACE from time to time, surely none of us want to see its demise. Events such as Cut Off might not offer any new perspective on the current situation but they serve to remind us that our voices are strongest when we speak out as a community. Together we should be able to collect enough signatures to instigate a Commons debate on the arts. It may not change anything, but it's worth a shot.
This article was originally published by The Guardian (2010).