Today is February 25th, 2015. It is the 50th anniversary of Jennie Lee’s White Paper for the Arts.
In 1965, this White Paper stated (my bold emphasis throughout blog post): “In any civilised community the arts and associated amenities, serious or comic, light or demanding, must occupy a central place. Their enjoyment should not be regarded as something remote from everyday life.” and “if a high level of artistic achievement is to be sustained and the best in the arts made more widely available, more generous and discriminating help is urgently needed, locally, regionally and nationally.”
As a freelance theatre practitioner based in the north of England, it saddens me that 50 years on, we are still a long, long way from achieving this ambition. In my own practice, I have worked with children and adults of all ages – including young offenders, adults with learning difficulties, those disaffected by education – and I have personally seen how enriching an experience arts can be for ALL.
The results of the recent Warwick Commission, along with such initiatives as Fun Palaces (http://funpalaces.co.uk/), 64 Million Artists (http://64millionartists.co.uk/), the launch of BBC Get Creative etc etc etc all seem, I hope, to demonstrate that many, many people are currently restless and hungry for greater support and access to arts for all. I am one of them – and I do feel part of a community, a movement – online and off.
This, by the way, is not about asking for more investment in buildings or simply in already established, high profile companies and institutions. (As Jennie Lee’s White Paper states: “Nor must Government support be given only to established institutions. New ideas, new values, the involvement of large sections of the community hitherto given little or no opportunity to appreciate the arts, all have their place.”) It is about acknowledging that all people, of all ages and backgrounds, in all areas of the country, have the right to the benefits that the arts can offer. It is about ensuring that resources are equitably shared and are not always London-centric. (In Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital (2014) it states “2012/13 found that Londoners benefited from £69 a year spending per head, compared with just £4.50 in the rest of England.”)
In the run-up to the next election, I wonder how seriously the various political parties are taking such issues. I only hope they do not underestimate the importance the arts can – and should play – in the future health and happiness of all.
Once again, Jennie Lee’s 1965 White Paper is highly relevant here: “If one side of life is highly mechanised, another side must provide for diversity, adventure, opportunities both to appreciate and to participate in a wide range of individual pursuits. An enlightened government has a duty to respond to these needs.” and “A new social as well as artistic climate is essential.”
Let’s hope for – and work for – progress in the next 50 years.