On Saturday 26th March, I, along with half a million other people from all walks of life, marched in London in protest against the Tory-led government's stringent programme of public sector cuts. We marched for the alternative to this government's detrimental agenda.
Everyone will have had their different and numerous reasons for taking part in the protest, but one issue very much at the forefront of my mind on Saturday was the subject of this blog post - the arts.
Today, the Arts Council England has announced its series of cuts to the arts budget, encompassing theatre, opera, dance, cinematography, art galleries and many more cultural organisations - big and small, local and national. The ACE cannot and should not be blamed for these Draconian "efficiency savings" (as the ConDems would put it). They have been faced with an impossible task and forced to impose these cutbacks by the government. The Arts Council is the messenger of a cruel and determined master.
There have been winners and losers in today's announcement. Charnwood Arts in Loughborough, for instance, has been successful in getting a funding rise from £131, 000 to £137,500. Bristol Old Vic has been given standstill funding. This is essentially a cut, as inflation is currently running at over 4%. But it's better than a large and straightforward slash in the budget, as has been the fate of many other organisations. But the general picture from today is, as expected, gloomy. As a result of these cuts, the arts up and down the land will suffer. Organisations will receive fewer government subsidies, meaning they will have to raise the price of tickets (where applicable) in order to control costs. We all know what this means, it's stingingly simple - the arts will be even more expensive, and therefore they will be the preserve of the well-off. What is more, less funding means less original and innovative work, and thus we risk becoming a cultural wasteland.
Before the collapse of Northern Rock and the ensuing financial crisis, the United Kingdom had the second lowest deficit in the G7. This means that the international banking catastrophe, caused solely by the selfish greed and reckless short-sightedness of those in the City and the wider financial world, as well as a severe lack of regulation, was the main cause of the "black-hole" deficit the coalition is currently trying to reduce, through destroying our public services. Not Labour. Not me. Not you. We didn't cause this and yet we are paying for it. That is not just unfair, it is insane.
The Tories believe in a small state and big business. They will stop at nothing to slash the public sector and that includes the arts.
In his wonderful speech at the rally on March 26th, the actor Samuel West said, "Conservatives don't like art being cheap because it educates and enlightens working people". I really can't put it any better. These overly severe cuts to the arts and the wider public sector are driven by ideology, not necessity.
It is my passionate and unequivocal belief that the arts should be everyone. Why should only the rich be allowed to experience the beauty of Shakespeare or Verdi? The arts are a right, not a privilege. Art, in all its many, many forms, is an essential aspect of our lives. Art is the greatest of all our endeavours, for it explores what it means to be human. Art is not some flowery nonsense, it is not a frivolous past-time in which only the wealthy have time to indulge. Through art, we express who we are, as individuals and as a race. So it angers me when Quentin Letts, writing in the Daily Mail (where else, I ask you?) says, "There will be keening and caterwauling on an epic scale. "Woe is us!" the corduroyed luvvies will chorus". Those are the remarks of a silly and ignorant man. The arts aren't just for "luvvies". They are the most powerful exploration of the human condition, and they are for all people, irrespective of whether or not they wear polo necks and end every sentence with the word "darling" (guilty as charged). At this time especially, we should be encouraging more people from all backgrounds to experience art, but instead this government, interested only in its own ends, wants to close off access to those who can't afford it. We must fight them. We must fight for the arts. We must fight for our fundamental rights as human beings.