February 4, 2014

Laurence, is a fourth-year Drama student at the University of Kent on work placement with People United.

There is a supposed quote where, when asked to cut arts funding during the Second World War, Winston Churchill replied, “Then what are we fighting for?” He never actually said that, but the Internet would have you believe he did, either way I think it still makes a powerful statement about the arts. Without art where would there be any enjoyment in life? We’d have no fiction, no creative cinema or theatre, no dance or music, no video games- it’d be a very dull earth. Cutting arts funding just seems very short sighted, especially if the government is still so adamant about costly contraptions like the Trident programme.

I think this is especially true for companies like People United, where the goal is focused on social cohesion. There are literally thousands of artistic companies out there with a sincere passion for making people’s lives better, be that through developing their confidence through the arts, bringing people together or just introducing a little joy into a community. I’ve discussed in previous blogs how pressing this social issue is and if the arts can help correct the problem and aid in making the UK a kinder country – we should surely be doing that? Without funding, companies like these cannot go on, People United is very fortunate to have a team of people who are very eloquent and able to fully explain their ideas and present evidence as to why they think their projects are worthy of funding. It’s easy to forget, People United included, how many of these companies are not-for-profit, the staff work tirelessly because they believe in the cause – not for monetary reward. The proverbial pot of funding, though, is slowly getting depleted and the coffer is becoming kaput. While there are a lot of wonderful charities out there and small funds to help the arts, it’s not enough for everyone – it just can’t be.

I’m feeling this problem more acutely at the moment because I’m researching funding for the company. While I am amazed at the amount of avenues available and the depth and breath of the funding, most of the funders in question get around twelve applications per grant. That was an average I found, for some of the bigger grants it was considerably more, but, with the smaller grants, the number of applicants never really dipped below ten applicants per grant. These figures are probably just going to grow annually, as it doesn’t look like the government is going to suddenly start mass funding the arts again, it’s a relatively dark time for the arts sector – but it’s been through many before and hopefully it’ll make it through this one too.

There will be attritional damage though, I knew a few companies personally that went ‘bust’, the funding just wasn’t there and often funders were more likely to give to the ‘tried and tested’ companies in lieu of the fledgling ones. There’s certainly logic in that, but it’s unfortunate that so many promising companies have been nipped in the bud before they could really show what they were made of. If anyone reading this believes the arts to be a bit ‘wishey-washy’, allow me to present you with some objective figures from the arts council. Firstly, “arts and culture make up 0.4 per cent of GDP – a significant return on the less than 0.1 per cent of government spending invested in the sector.” Even, then, if we were going to break down the arts to basic economic terms, they are still seriously profitable. I think even the hard-hearted members of the BBC’s ‘Dragon’s Den’ would invest in a venture that promised to quadruple their investment every year.

Secondly, connected with my first point, “arts and culture generate more per pound invested than the health, wholesale and retail, and professional and business services sectors.” I’m fairly certain, that when I assert that, people would not question investing in business and retail, am I correct in this assumption? Why should it be any different with the arts then, especially when it’s an objective fact that the investment return is higher? While I could go on, putting more evidence forward in a steadfast defense of the industry I am so enamoured with, I shall instead conclude with this, “economic contribution of the arts and cultural sector has grown since 2008, despite the UK economy as a whole remaining below its output level before the global financial crisis.” Therefore, clearly the arts still have just as much of a loyal and avid fan base as ever before, in fact, it appears to be slowly growing, with people just as willing to spend their hard-earned money on them.

When all is said and done, the focus of art, in its purest form, is not on monetary gain but rather dissemination of creative thought and ideas, sharing a unique image of the world with others – yet even with this as the focus, the creative industries are still a huge money maker. So, place a price tag on us if you wish, we’re still worth it. But, as I said before putting a price on the arts really shouldn’t be the focus. If the arts can transform people’s lives for the better and they’ve proved time and again that they can, then we should surely support arts funding. They have the potential to elevate and ease the pressing social issues of our time and make the world, at the very least, a more inspiring place to live. After all, we have to live here, so making our time here the best it can be is imperative, you can’t take gold and goods with you to the next life, but you can look back on a life rich with inspiration and happiness and feel it was all worth the journey.

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