Arts blog: Can the arts survive austerity? Yes, if we don’t give in to cynicism
WHY should artists be paid public money when the recession has left basic services like healthcare are under threat?
This is a question people who work in the arts dread, especially because those who ask it often regard the arts as an indulgence and public funding of it as a handout – for, as someone put it to me this week, “arty people and their friends”.
The most obvious response to these people is to quote statistics – such as the Creative Scotland report from last month which found that the arts are worth £3.2 billion to the Scottish economy, not far behind tourism (at £4 billion). Far from draining public money that might otherwise go to hospitals, the arts generate substantially more than they cost to fund – and enrich the lives of everybody in innumerable ways. But this only happens if the arts are funded in a way that allows them to thrive – which, despite the recession, they still do, as demonstrated by the fact that creative Scots continue to win audiences and acclaim internationally.
Ah, the cynics respond, but if artists are doing so well why do they need our tax money? Because, I counter, the artists themselves mostly don’t benefit financially themselves. The money generated comes, instead, in thousands of what Creative Scotland calls “indirect impacts” – the businesses that supply the costumes, the restaurants people eat in before the theatre, etc etc.
The problem with all this is that the case for publicly funding the arts is complex, nuanced and takes time to explain, while the case against it can be made with one blunt, simple, leading question. And no matter how filled with misinformation and innuendo that question is, people are easily won over by it.
Evidence for this can be found in the title of a press release I was sent this week: “Can The Arts Survive Global Austerity?” The subject will be debated at the Scottish Parliament next month, as part of the Edinburgh International Cultural Summit on 13 and 14 August. Delegates, it says, will discuss funding cuts, and “share views on different funding models for culture and discuss how nations can develop a sustainable environment which allows artists and creativity to flourish”.
Can the arts survive global austerity? It’s sad that this question even needs to be asked. Since the arts make much more money than the modest sums they cost to fund, there’s no reason whatsoever why they shouldn’t – as long as we aren’t conned by the simplistic, dishonest claim that we have to make a choice between hospitals and culture.
Young at heart
YOUTh often seems to rule the Edinburgh Fringe, whether it’s eager young students, glossy young London PRs, or grumpy young comedians.
Or does it? The venerable Liz Lochhead (64) is not only doing a Fringe show this year, it now turns out she’s taking on performers half her age in a BBC poetry slam on 22 August. Tony Benn (87) is at the Assembly Rooms. Barry Cryer (77) is at the Gilded Balloon (with the slightly younger Ronnie Golden) in a show offering “songs of love and mobility scooters”, as is Norman Lovett (65). There is also no shortage of theatre shows about getting older – whether it’s Donna Rutherford’s Kin, in which middle-aged people talk revealingly about their relationships with their elderly parents, or performers like Mark Thomas and Sean Hughes exploring the grief they felt when their fathers died.
What does this mean? Nothing, I suspect. The Fringe is a giant Rorschach inkblot test. Think you’ve spotted a theme amongst its 2695 diverse shows? You haven’t. It’s just reflecting your own preoccupations back at you. I’m about to turn 40, so I’m noticing old people more.
Message from God
I WAS very excited to get an e-mail from God this week. “God Allah announced today He is now seeking sponsors for the purpose of The Resurrection. Applicants may apply by email to god @llah.us.” What kind of sponsors? “Businesses, organizations, communities, etc.” Interesting to see that Allah is keeping up with the current trend for crowdfunding. I would recommend the websites Sponsume and Kickstarter. Hope this is helpful.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 10 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 9 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: West