We Need Societal Culture to Change, Not Advocacy for Arts Funding
This week the Arts Council England have launched their Advocacy Toolkit, which aims to give arts organisations a clear demonstration of the “value of public investment in the arts and culture”. The toolkit is designed to assist organisations in presenting the concise information and statistics (and pretty infographics) as a defence for public investment in the arts to MPs, stakeholders, audiences and anyone who will listen. Commissioned by Arts Council England with an independent report conducted by the Centre for Economics and Business Research it is a giant, and excuse the French, “fuck you” to those who are keen to cut funding to the arts. The report puts it simple: investment in the arts gives return to the local economy, £1 is returned up to £6.
The Advocacy Toolkit is not the first advocacy campaign to spring up in wake of increasing pressure from the current government to cut budgets for the arts. After a domino effect of arts venues coming either close, or indeed altogether closing due to cuts to local authority budgets, the My Theatre Matters campaign was launched in March. Organised by Equity, The Stage and the Theatre Management Association, along with support from a string of high-profile industry peers, the campaign aims to tell councillors that local theatres matter for both individuals and the community. It is both a campaign to raise the profile of local theatres as it is to show the support and necessity of them.
Whilst both the Advocacy Toolkit and the My Theatre Matters campaign demonstrate a drive for further pressure to be applied to the government and local authorities for their understanding of arts funding, for me, these campaigns will fall on deaf ears. When the arts industry is being told by the Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, that we must make the case for the arts to prove the economic value, it is not because it will make a difference, it is to assert that the coalition government will be seen as ‘listening’. Sadly making the case and creating advocacy tools and campaigns aren’t going to change the outcome of the next budgetary cuts; they are inevitable. It is not the government we must campaign against because the arts suffers from a much deeper and complex disagreement; the lack of support from the public. Whilst we have a thriving cultural industry that feeds into everyday lives, it is not integral. Culture is not valued because it is not seen as an integral part of living in this country.
Until we change the way in which the public views culture and the arts, we will never see a shift in policies and objectives from the government (or of course until we re-elect). This is not to undermine the work of both the Arts Council England and the My Theatre Matters campaign, both are essential tools to be used and seen, but their target is wrong. We have to make the public see the necessity in the arts, and show what will happen without it. Until we can prove that the arts are as valuable to that of healthcare (yes, that tired argument again), or welfare and education, then quite frankly the arts is screwed. Our government has to see how integral the arts is to the public in order gain any traction on further support.
It’s not tools for advocacy we need, it is a shift in cultural understanding and priority, something that takes years of gradual change. This is not something that we can solve ourselves. We can bang on the arts funding drum until we deafen all of society but it will do no good. We’re fighting against a deep rooted indifference and misunderstanding of the arts; years of misconception. And there’s the true rub: changing a societal view is not something that the arts industry can change, it has to happen within individuals. So whilst we’re given tools and campaigns, let us not mask the truth. I’m not trying to be defeatist, I’d gladly support and campaign for the arts, but it has to be done with a level of understanding. Societal views won’t change overnight, it comes from years of strategic development and campaigning.