Britain’s bonfire of the vanities (13/07/2012)

George Osborne sneering

Mr Osborne spots a part of the budget he hasn’t strangled yet, and resolves to smother its children

The British are going through a time of economic difficulty, just like the rest of the world. Our finance minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, has taken the stance that to get through this difficult period we must cut, cut, cut without anything in place for economic recovery i.e. some form of stimulus to those sectors which would pull us out of this marvellous double-dip recession. No, not at all, Mr Osborne sits upon a pale horse called Austerity, merrily swinging his scythe of fiscal punishment – making a good go of carving Britain down to a pauper’s skeleton.

In this melange of cutting furious enough to rival the most vigorous self-harm, the arts and culture sector must of course swallow a bitter pill. As seems to be the way of things, when the going gets tough the arts are labelled as “elitist”. The gaping holes being opened up in the public arts budget is supposed to be philanthropic money – from the Big Society! The notion makes me either want to laugh hysterically until I ruin a good pair of trousers or vomit plumes of molten bile.

Another tactic deployed is to say that the arts needs to justify itself in the same way as other parts of the creative industries, and should stop hiding behind flowery rhetoric. Well, here’s the rub of it; the purpose of art right now is threefold (as described by the Arts Council): to increase people’s capacity for life, to enrich their experience and to provide a safe site in which they could build their skills, confidence and self-esteem. This all sounds very noble, and it can be said that other creative areas provide some of these aspects but none of them provide all three. Furthermore, a recent study encompassing all of Europe covering 5,000 13 to 16 year olds found that drama in schools significantly increases to learn, to relate to each other and to tolerate minorities, as well as making them more likely to vote.

Children touring RAF Museum London

I’m sorry children, the exhibit is closed, kindly piss off.

The more you cut arts, the further you drive society towards ignorance. Many museums across Britain are being forced to close off areas to the public or deny the public entirely, shrink their community outreach, raise fees for school visits, etc. So when museums are saying they have record numbers of people wanting to visit them, the government is rifling through their pockets and snatching up any stray change.

As public subsidy is torn down, we lose the chance to care for our national heritage. Not just that, but the chance we have to innovate and show the world what British art is, will shrink. Once you force museums, theatres and opera houses to adhere to the same standard as architects, advertisers, computer game manufacturers and the like then the arts will lose.

For the purpose of the arts now is allow a forum for free thought and expression which includes all walks of life as both spectator and participator. Publicly subsidised arts organisations are being forced to shut down, and the insistence that philanthropists will save the sinking ship could in effect make art elitist.

So when we look back at this period of Britain’s history when we were throwing all of our arts onto an economic bonfire in an attempt to purge, we will realise there’s no way of retrieving what we lost in the fire. Unless of course we can convince George Osborne that saving the arts will fix the budget, in which case he would chuck in his own grandmother and walk over her sizzling geriatric corpse to grab the works of Harold Pinter. At this point, Mr Osborne has probably turned to voodoo to amend this almighty cluster-fuck we find ourselves in. George, for the nation’s sake, leave a little bit of art behind so we can at least look at something meaningful as our house falls down around our ears.

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