Attending, Caring and talking it up – making the case for the arts

You’ve probably noticed the arts have been in the news a lot recently. First there was the #EBACC announcement, then came the ‘regional theatre in crisis conference last week’. On Tuesday this week was a report where Will Gompertz implied (unintentionally) that only 8% of the population engaged with the arts then on Wednesday came two separate announcements. Firstly a seemingly flawed report for DCMS continuing the myth that philanthropy is the answer (which space wont allow me to address here but here is Charlotte Higgins response). Secondly formal announcement that Newcastle – a city which has built much of its regeneration around culture – is proposing to cut it’s entire arts budget for venues.

All this is happening just ahead of the Chancellors statement (which will not be made any easier by Thursday’s announcements of increased borrowing). It’s a statement which many are predicting will include an in settlement cut across DCMS of 5%. The fear amongst many colleagues is that culture is being set up as the scape goat to take the biggest hit.

Why a scape goat? Perhaps because – say compared to sport culture just doesn’t make the case well enough. Perhaps because politicians believe that the man on the street won’t mind the arts being cut. Perhaps because there is a mistaken belief that state funding can be replaced by philanthropy.

So what do we do?

I was listening again to an interview Eastern Angles artistic director Ivan Cutting gave last week. When asked about what we can do he said ‘we have to invest [in culture]. Investing in it is not just about personal giving – it’s about attending, its about caring about it, about talking it up’

The interviewer concluded by saying ‘it’s alright to say you support the arts but you really need to go and do something physically about it’

And collectively we could make a difference. Using Ivan’s lead here is my little action list:-

Attend

I’m often guilty (as I was last night) of fully intending to go to that concert, that event, that gallery but didn’t because I was tired, had had a bad work day or that nice, easy, alluring pint of Adnams beckoned. Now more than ever we need to make the decision to go – and then go again – and tell our friends and colleagues to go. Numbers matter – both in terms of box office and in terms of stats.

Invest/donate

I’m already a member of Eastern Angles donation scheme Copperfield – but they are also my employer so doesn’t really count. Those people who’ve read previous postings will know both the West Yorkshire Playhouse and Harrogate Theatre have special places in my heart. Time I started donating there too?

These schemes matter. So for example just 113 new Copperfield members paying £2.50 a month – with match funding from Catalyst and gift aid would raise enough money for Eastern Angles to commission a new play in just 12 months. That’s people power.

Tell the story – my story and the arts story

Much of the regional theatre is in crisis conference was based on the ‘story’ of Danny Boyle getting the theatre bug whilst working as an usher for the Octagan Theatre. From such small seeds has grown Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire and of course the Olympic Opening ceremony.

What are my stories and who am I telling them to? Stories like the difference @phrandconfused made to poet Mark Grist by giving him and mc mixy their initial break. Without that commission its quite possible that Mark might still have been a school teacher and this (and the following sell out Edinburgh show) might never have happened. And Mark might tell the story of how during a school workshop he was leading for @mbdtweets a selective mute started to talk again.

I suspect everyone who reads this blog has there own – and much more powerful – stories of how the arts has affected them or the people they know. But how often have we shared them with the artists and arts organisations who made them happen . Right now those stories could be critical in helping to make the case.
There’s a second story that is equally important here too. It’s the story of the cultural sector as a whole. It’s a story which needs to be told by as many different people and in as many different ways as possible. It’s a story that says the arts and creative industries create billions for the UK economy, accounting for almost 2 million jobs and contribute over £6billion to the economy annually, making up 7% of GDP. Its a story that says culture is one of the things that we are bloody good at, and are known for internationally. It’s a story which says that culture is critical to making us who we are.

Make some noise

And finally – on my little personal check list – is to make more noise. For me that will be about actually getting round to contacting my MPs and councillors. It will mean commenting positively (and responding to the negative comments) that appear online around media stories. It will mean blogging and tweeting (no surprise there, huh).

And if you do just one thing please support the ISM push to get cultural subjects recognised in the #EBACC (if you’ve not signed the petition please do so here).

These are just my thoughts – and the actions which would work for me. I’m just as interested in yours…

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