This week, Westminster unveiled a new exhibition that has had the entire capital talking. Bauhaus colour schemes across the selected works, a satirical subtext that was perhaps unintentional, and a Pollock-esque scattering of hopeful messages. Sadly it’s not a new Grayson Perry project, it’s the 2015 party manifestos.
At the forefront of the policy war currently besieging every small village hall, as the ballot boxes are dusted off, is the questions of funding – where it is going and how much. Students like the Cynics, and over 40% of the young people studying at university, are anxious to find out each party’s stance on Arts funding and how this will affect the cultural climate of their lives. Since 1994, when the Arts Council for the UK was established, funding for the Arts has been of vital importance to all in the education industry and a veritable life-giver to all the creative minds living in our glorious isles. It seems that creative minds and their artwork just doesn’t make the quick quid that Osborne et al. is after, hence consistent cuts that stifle creative growth.
In January of this year, Labour posted a bizarre tweet on their press page that appeared to brag about their decision to continue Arts cuts.
Forgive my ignorance, but this doesn’t exactly read as the most inviting of policies for those in the Arts industries, does it? The comment saw the Greens seize it as an opportunity to revise their own policies on Arts funding with promises they would not be as callous and obtuse as Labour had been. It’s unclear what mentality went into the drafting of the tweet, or whether it was a mistake that has not been redacted, but it spills the proverbial Tipp-ex over the answers sheet of Labour policy making.
Interestingly, Labour claimed afterwards that a Tory government would see Arts funding fall to levels last seen in 1930, before the Arts Council and its equivalent departments were even being considered through the bureaucratic cigar smoke of the Lords. Ed Balls responded to the criticism of Labour’s apparent stance on the Arts by calling the purported evidence of the opposition ‘pure fabrication’, though he failed to address what exactly the alternative was Labour had tucked up their silk-lined blazer sleeves. Of course cuts to sectors and industries like Arts can always be chalked up to austerity and lumped in with all the other issues crated up in the Tory attic with embossed ‘return to sender’ markings on their sides, but this is simply an unthinkable response to something as pivotal as the Arts.
Dreda Say Mitchell, writing for The Guardian, wrote that the Arts are viewed as a ‘luxurious add-on that we can’t afford’. Mitchell’s comments are strikingly close to the hearts of all those hoping to enter a creative vocation and to all students studying a degree prefixed with the two letters ‘BA’. Voting in the coming election should be done with a clear assessment of all policies, but the creative members of the Arts industry will be pushing for votes from those who see the Arts as essential, not as an ‘add-on’ or afterthought.
With regards to the main party’s standing on Arts funding, the following has been surmised from the Arts Council site itself which has studied the manifestos closely:
The Conservative’s will maintain free access to museums and a have stated that a new grand concert hall will be built in London. Our capital is a thriving city of culture and is a landmark itself across the world, but there are other cities with a culture scene just as progressive that is cast in the shadow of London. Should they be left to sit in the darkness backstage whilst London remains shining under the studio lights? Or should the money that would go into such a building be placed into another city’s cultural landscape? The question of course is whether London has enough money, which is a hard question to answer, isn’t it?
Labour has said they will commit to creative education for all young people and ensure extra-curricular activities will be conducive to creative growth. They also pledged to establish a Prime Minister’s Committee on the Arts, which conjures the delightful image of Red Ed sitting in his favourite box at the Royal Albert Hall, fervently writing down cute catchphrases and arbitrary star ratings as he assumes the party’s role of cultural connoisseur. Perhaps this is an inaccurate image, but one that will surely lead to some Googling about what exactly this committee will do.
The Liberal Democrats failed to put on a show that Miliband would review on his committee, with them parroting the Tory promise of free museum entry and wearing it as proudly as a scout badge. They placed the Arts industry and their policies for it within the forever overarching ideal of a ‘sustainable economy’ which is disconcertingly vague and answers nothing regarding the Arts.
UKIP in traditional sensationalist form invited hatred from 50% of University students studying a BA when they pledged that all BSc’s would have no tuition fees, whilst their thespian, beret-wearing cousins would pay full whack. Their cultural policies were split into two brackets, as they like to do with much of their policies, named ‘British Culture’ and ‘Heritage and Tourism’. A smart decision of course, as obviously British people have no discernible heritage nor do they ever reduce themselves to mere cultural ‘tourists’ and have for too long searched for a bureaucracy that caters to these universal truths.
The Greens pledged to reduce VAT for live performances to 5% and were the only party to offer a specific commitment to Arts funding. They stated they would increase Arts funding by £500m a year, an impressive pledge that should already be a part of every party’s priorities and yet is not.
We should not be surprised by figures anymore, nor should we be hoodwinked by the promise of various bureaucratic institutions that will control and organise culture. We should vote for the party that believes, like ourselves, that the Arts are what make life worth living.