Yesterday was a profoundly upsetting and depressing day for some of my artist and producing friends, and a great day for others. Some found their budgets cut to ribbons, or cut entirely, others found themselves bumped up hugely.
For an insight into what all this is really about I suggest checking out Johann Hari’s piece about the cuts generally.
For more specifically theatre-writing-related thought, there’s Fin Kennedy’s excellent blog.
But I have to say that I’m a little disappointed so many of my theatre-making friends concentrated their energy and attention yesterday only on theatre. ACE isn’t all about theatre – though I think even the Arts Council sometimes thinks it is!
When we talk about ACE as if it’s there primarily to support theatre, we deny ourselves (as theatre makers, as theatre writers) access to and interest in/from other arts forms. Dance and literature (poetry especially) have been badly served by these revisions. Salt Publishing, one of our very few indie presses, with a real concentration on poetry, lost their funding. As did the Poetry Book Society. This will damage theatre. Theatre is better when we make it cross-genre, genre-inclusive.
Meynard Keynes created the forerunner to the Arts Council during WW2 both to keep making work/work spaces available for performers, musicians and dancers who had lost their work and workspaces and to give the people hope. Spirit. When Churchill was advised to cut funding for the arts to divert the money to the war effort his reply was “Then what are we fighting for?”
Contrary to an unusually philistine approach to the arts debate on last night’s Newsnight, with questioning about the class* of arts-users, we do need arts for all people, for all reasons. And we need them widely, diversely. We might even need them more because times are ‘hard’. (Obviously, they wouldn’t be if the banks would pay back their bailouts, stop wasting our money on their bonuses, but as they’re not going to …)
Meanwhile!, I’ve spent the past three days working on three different (unfunded) theatre pieces at a funded venue that generously shared space with us. I will spend the next two days doing the writing work that supports me to do this other, non-paid, writing work. If ACE or our state ever had to actually pay all those of us who constantly make/create arts work for free, often being paid only when the piece is on show to the public (if then), rarely earning while they are in development, rarely on commission, they’d be bankrupt in a weekend. That’s not new, or different to the past many many years, artists have always created their work as farmers and then taken it to the marketplace to sell. But the real truth is that most people making arts work in Britain right now do not get paid full-time for their work. They subsidise their work with other jobs, if they’re lucky they subsidise one lots of arts work with the income from another.
And it would be great if ACE or Newsnight or the government or anyone else talking about the arts (not least those artists working in big buildings with regular salaries!) ever acknowledged how much WE, the non-salaried artists, subsidise the arts.
* As if a) non middle-class people don’t go to theatre, concerts, dance etc and b) only the big hits in the West End or cinemas are worth keeping. Sigh, without their working at/training in smaller, subsidised theatres in the first place we don’t have Danny Boyle, Stephen Daldry, Catherine Johnson etc etc etc to make those big shows/big movies that are hits for all people, wherever they’re from …