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Home » Speakers' Corner

Arts Funding … a Bit of a Joke

Submitted by on December 2, 2012 – 4:38 pmOne Comment

The other day an artist called me grumpy. I mocked him merrily, which I thought was the best way to refute the insinuation. It may be true that owing to regrettable health reasons my smile muscles were surgically removed before I entered puberty – donated to the less fortunate, I was never going to use them anyway – but my sense of the ridiculous is fully intact and I still enjoy the odd chuckle. Inwardly, and to myself, naturally. Often at the exaggerated self-estimation of certain sections of the artistic community.

What tickled my ribs yesterday was a news articles brought to my attention on Twitter. You must know the kind of thing – someone cobbles together human interest story about the knock-on effects of arts funding cuts larded with a few quotes from the usual suspects and Twitter reacts as if it were the cleverest thing since Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. Sadly I am not blessed with an arts education (apparently, the arts make you a critical thinker and able to empathise with all sides of an argument), and I’m a bit of a slow reader, so I tend not to get caught up in the retweet frenzy.

The piece appeared on the Arts and Entertainment section of the BBC News website; Arts face battle to avoid funding “abyss”. I shan’t quibble about the word, “abyss” in this context – though, for all I can tell, it may accurately describe the situation facing Newcastle council in respect to their provision of statutory services – except to point out there’s nowhere left to go once you’ve reached the abyss. So where will that leave us if there’s another round of arts cuts? (The article admits the cuts are between 4 and 14%, really bad, but a way to go!) But that’s just a minor aside; what really caused me to guffaw about this article was its sheer lack of gorm. Nobody outside the arts establishment could be anything but embarrassed by this ludicrous piece of twaddle.

Check any other section of the BBC News site that has stories about the North East. There’s hospital closures, cutbacks in children’s services, old people and the vulnerable having a really miserable time of it. Things are grim and most people are feeling the austerity up close and personal. What about the impact of arts funding cuts, what does it mean for the North East?

Well, mainly the market for “artisan” ice cream is looking a bit peaky …

Come again? I’m meant to take this seriously? It is of course tragic that the supply of strawberry swirl during the interval at Newcastle Theatre Royal’s panto is imperilled by the council’s decision to remove the subsidy – and I’m sure that for the playgoing public of Jesmond and Tynemouth the experience will never be quite so delightful again. If I were to treat this argument with the seriousness it deserves I might have to point out that regulating ice cream availability has quantifiable health benefits and will also have a positive impact on the carbon footprint of the North East. Those little wooden spoons that come with your raspberry ripple don’t half mount up. For every season of Aladdin a small forest in Borneo is felled and a species of exotic crickets snuffs it. You have to ask yourself if culture is worth it, don’t you!

If this were the only silliness in this article I may have just chuckled and considered it a bit of light entertainment. However, things go from the ridiculously bad to the astonishingly absurd. The artistic director of one of the venues the council is accused of nobbling is quoted, and it’s a corker. Read and enjoy;

Some people are born to stand on a stage and perform or write a play for that stage – like some people are born to run in an Olympic race or run a financial institution.

What’s important is we must allow all the people from all the classes access to fulfil their creative ambition. If denied – our society will undoubtedly be poorer for it.

So, I gather from this, some are born to tread the boards and some to be investment bankers. The recession is simply the result of the unfettered self-expression of those blessed with financial genes and a bankers birthright. All the arts are asking is that “all the classes” get a go, as a matter of fairness.

This is great news. I’ve always had a hankering to be a highwayman, and my soul yearns to do the “stand and deliver” thing, on a big horse called Bess, with a loaded musket. I demand my council close the A19 to any vehicle with an engine and supply me with a lifetime of hosiery. It’s only fair. Society will be much poorer if I don’t get my spot in the moonlight. Your money or your life.

See, arty folk, I’m quite the reverse of grumpy. I find a lot of “arguments” for the arts a bloody hoot. Comedy gold. They make even a hardened old cynic like me howl with laughter. Isn’t this a problem though?

It’s a problem because I’m a huge fan. If I were in charge of the arts I’d double the budget (though I’d spend a wad on educating artists about serious subjects, like sums.) Sadly I’m not in charge – someone who knows even less than I do apparently has the job! And why shouldn’t she? It’s not like the minister for health has to be on the kidney transfer list, or the one responsible for sport has to have a gold post box. On that logic the minister for transport would be Jeremy bleeding Clarkson.

So, can we find some better arguments for arts funding? The next artist that tries to convince me of the economic investment case because “that’s the language they understand” will be tied to a chair and made to listen to the collected speeches of Jeremy Hunt until the penny drops. Now that would be funny.

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One Comment »

  • James Blythman says:

    It’s amazing how some in the Middle Classes use the access for all card when their own finances are at risk. Max Roberts’ comments could be applied to any point in an economic cycle.

    It reminds me of being a student at the turn of the century. My mum was poor so I didn’t have to pay the new fangled tuition fees. The NUS were protesting everywhere against tuition fees because it stopped poor people going to University. That’s when I realised the Middle Classes were cunts.

    Now I’m Middle Class.

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