Are the arts only for a time of plenty?
Over the past week, there has been much in the British news about the proposed 25% government cut to arts funding, the UK Film Council being one of its recent victims. Among other reasons, supporters for government funding see the arts as a good revenue stream for a city (contributing to tourism, etc) as well as believe that the arts are good for us as humans and therefore require investment.
On the other side, a popular argument in support of funding cuts view the situation as a ‘no-brainer’ choice between luxury and essentials. We cannot do without the police but we can do without the theatre. Comments on this Guardian article demonstrate what I mean:
‘Let’s be honest, art is a luxury. If art was that important, we’d be flying it out to disaster victims. I don’t like any of these cuts, but if it’s a toss up between the money going to the arts or the NHS I doubt any of us would choose the former.’ – Ca1eb
Among the arts community, one of the main concerns is that without government funding, the arts will be driven by what has perceived economic value (and thus what people want to buy). What the government funding has tended to support are new initiatives and art forms that sit on the ‘edge’ of the art world, many that wouldn’t have the support of the public. Government funding also supports local and regional initiatives, especially projects that are starting up in low-income areas. The suggestion by the government for moving forward is to make up the gap through private donors. However, the concern is that one will end up with a well-funded Royal Opera but no money for local and new initiatives. A change in funding shifts the power to the consumer rather than transcending the consumer and putting the power into a committee of people who presumably have an ‘eye’ for up and coming art. There is a real fear that ‘without this vital test-bed of activity, it is hard to know where future experimentation and innovation will come from.’ (Axis) Perhaps the arts community has cause to be concerned if these comments are indicative of the public opinion:
‘Scammers lile Hirst and Emin have left the average punter with an amused disdain for arty people who whinge when they are threatened with eviction from their luxurious ivory towers… Artists, get into the spirit of the age, we are all working harder for less money, get out on the street, like buskers .Go to the punters, don’t sit on your backside, raking in the grant money, it corrupts your art,it is only supposed to be valuable when you are dead.’ – jimfred
‘Britain is an intrinsically philistine country where the arts have to fight for money in times of plenty, now with money in short supply and a deeply philistine government in power, the arts have no chance.’ – petrifiedprozac
To what extent does how we spend our money give evidence to what we find to be valuable and meaningful? While a cut in government funding does provide opportunities for funding to emerge elsewhere or can be a catalyst for creative thinking being applied to arts funding, at the end of the day, art costs money, and I would argue, good art requires investment. For an artist to have the time to develop their skill and craft, they need the ‘luxury’ of patronage from somewhere else. However, I think the culture of inaccessibility that has characterised modern and avant-garde art is the genesis of this discussion. Would we be discussing art funding at all if the public viewed the arts as meaningful to their day-to-day life?
I’ll end my discussion by posing the question, ‘What makes art meaningful and can art be meaningful apart from God?’. Do these questions about funding circulating in the public sphere create an opportunity for the Church to once again consider her role as patron to the arts, investing in art that is grounded in meaning found in God and then offering it to the public?
Photo Credit: Oskay’s Photostream (creative commons license)