The artistic community, both current and future, received another major blow this week with confirmation of the 50% cut to high-cost subject funding for subjects in the performing and creative arts for the academic year 2021/2022. Coming after the threat to scrap the performing arts BETC, Covid, Brexit, fears of future funding cuts and local government provision; artists, both current and future, feel besieged.
The Government’s argument is that this will concentrate resources on supporting the NHS, STEM subject and specific labour market needs; lowering support for what it calls high cost/low earning arts degrees. This argument does not stack up, leading many to feel this is more about shutting down the arts that supporting the NHS or STEM subjects.
There has been widespread condemnation of the cuts from both within and outside the industry, with extensive coverage of why the Government should abandon these proposals. I want to add a few of my own thoughts.
If you want to increase cognitive ability, improve early years reading and maths or support the education of students from low-income families; creativity delivers that. The Cultural Learning Alliance’s The Case for Culture Learning makes compelling reading.
Culture in the UK continues to be a major contributor to the economy despite the unique challenges it has faced during the pandemic, and reports show the potential for a strong sector recovery. However, in large parts of the sector, artists continue to be poorly paid for the work they produce. Additionally, reports on artists earning fail to consider those who are self employed; a large part of the sector. Thus, the Government’s argument of high cost/low earning degree has major flaws.
Employers may need STEM subjects, but in a workplace already dramatically altered by the pandemic with encroaching automation and AI, employers will need employees who can think creatively, rapidly find new solutions to fresh problems, and discover new products and services. With ever more automation, strong human communication and people skills will be key if future human employees are to stand out from their AI alternatives. All that comes from creativity.
If the Government wants to support the NHS, then it should have the arts near the top of that support. Mental health has become a key health issue; the isolation of lockdown, the pandemic/world uncertainty, and economic/employment fallout have added even more pressure to that challenge. That the arts can be of positive benefit to mental health is well established. Artists, art therapists and drama therapists all work within mental health settings. There are also thousands of community artists across the UK who deliver a wide range of creative work to vulnerable communities. These artists need an arts education; and that arts education needs to come from those who have had an arts education. As I have said before, the arts community can do much to support their communities, as shown by their response to the pandemic.
The current Government cut is for one academic year 2021/2022, but with the possibility of further cuts in future years. Whilst we may have lost the argument for one year, it is now time to set up the campaign to ensure that this is not the beginning of the end for arts education.