The Guardian’s 100 Voices Case for Culture was published online yesterday. Here’s the link, in case you haven’t already seen it: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture-professionals-network/culture-professionals-blog/interactive/2012/dec/07/case-for-culture-100-voices?fb=native
Reading through the hundred quotes, looking at almost a hundred faces all putting forward essentially the same message, was an exciting and humbling experience; I was very proud to be one of them and my mind has been buzzing ever since – buzzing with the question: why do I feel so strongly about this and why am I compelled to make a case for culture?
In the current economic climate, I know that some people may feel the country faces bigger problems than a shrinking of arts provision, that culture is a luxury we can ill-afford, but, while admitting that there are a range of major problems facing us, and acknowledging that some tough choices do need to be made, I still feel that a case must be made for culture; it is not a luxury but a necessity for a healthy and forward-thinking society.
I was brought up in a small village in the north of England. My mother was a single parent and we lived with my grandmother in her house. I don’t mention this to win sympathy votes – my childhood, while, perhaps, not ideal, was far from deprived; I mention it to refute the idea that culture is merely for the rich, the elite. Money was not plentiful in my upbringing, but the arts were. In my village there was a thriving choir, which I joined at the age of 9, and a fantastic drama group. Both organizations were (and still are) full of talented, committed people and I found myself singing a wide range of music – ancient and modern – on a weekly basis, and performing in plays by Ibsen, Shakespeare, Miller etc several times a year. Through these activities I grew in confidence, creativity, discipline; I learned to work as part of a team and made a range of life-long friendships with people of all ages and backgrounds. Eye-opening and mind-broadening trips to theatre, cinema and concerts were also a regular part of my teenage life. Mum took me to all the events my school offered, whether or not I was in them, and we often attended theatre in the nearby city and, occasionally, but memorably, took trips to Manchester and even London. I know mum made sacrifices for these trips, but they couldn’t have been more important to me.
So my childhood – and later life path – was moulded and shaped by culture and I believe my life is hugely richer for it. I also believe that everyone’s experience can be enriched by exposure to the arts in any form. To give just one example: as a freelance theatre practitioner, I spent two years working part time in a Young Offenders’ prison, teaching literacy and running some drama workshops. It would be untrue to say the workshops were always wholly successful – anyone who has worked in this kind of environment will know how challenging the individuals can be – but when they did work, they were fantastic: the drama activities and devising processes we used unlocked emotions and experiences that the Young Offenders rarely talked about or explored and I watched them visibly grow in confidence, relate more effectively to each other, value themselves a little more and gradually begin to trust one another – something this group of individuals often find very hard to do. I truly believe there are very few activities – if any – other than arts ones, which would have allowed this to happen.
I could go on and on and on… and may do in a later post – perhaps in a more useful and systematic way than this personal rant. But for now, I want to finish with some of my favourite quotes from The Guardian’s interactive wall:
I value culture and the arts because…
“Without them, we are less. Less human. Less empathic. Less inspired. Less inventive. Less resourceful. Less fulfilled. Less creative. Less visionary. Less future-proof. Less socially aware. Less globally aware. Less economically viable. Without them we are less of a society.” Anita Holford, Freelance writer and comms practitioner Writing Services
“…This is all the more important at times of hardship and austerity – what one banker earns in a year would be enough to sustain hundreds of arts projects and livelihoods for artists.” Dorothy Ker, Lecturer, University of Sheffield
“The arts are essential to the formation of any culture; they are what define a culture. They are not negotiable, they are irreplaceable.” Jeremy Holloway, Director
Transient Theatre Ltd
“How dare we make drastic decisions that affect young people and kids who will never be able to undo the damage being done? Cuts might need to be made but they shouldn’t be rushed or dramatic. Implementing fees will only discourage those who can’t afford to go, adding fuel to the fire that culture is for the elite.” Mar Dixon, Audience development consultant
“Cutting art funds is going backwards as a civilised society.” Nicholas Smyrnios, Visual artist and designer
I hope you agree!