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Entertain yourself: cuts to the arts are dangerous for our country’s future

By Sophie Robinson.


March 2020 saw a sudden and drastic change to the way humanity entertained themselves.

No longer was seeing friends for a drink a viable option, and live events abruptly became a

thing of the past.


For those who were unable to work during the pandemic or had their living room quickly

transformed into a 24/7 office, there was suddenly a question of how to fill the time. And

the answer was obvious: the arts. Streaming giant Netflix had a surge of over 16 million new

subscriptions, National Theatre Live had a record amount of people tuning in for their

livestreamed performances and music platform Spotify had a paid membership boom in the

fourth quarter of lockdowns. If 18 months of lockdown taught us anything, it’s that the arts

are an invaluable lifeline for people. So, it doesn’t take much to see that the UK

governments devastating 50% funding cuts for art and design courses at universities is

incredibly damaging. Not only is it a direct attack on the livelihoods of those who work in

the arts sector, but it will also extremely impair the aspirations of the working-class youth

who, unlike their middle-class acquaintances, may only be able to access the arts through

school and university.


I wanted to speak to those studying the courses that risk being underfunded, to get their

take on these outrageous financial decisions.



Daniel, he/him, 20, from Edinburgh, studying a Fine Art MA at the Edinburgh College of

Art


‘The course content is incredibly diverse, focusing not only on allowing students to develop

systems with which to structure projects in the practical sense, but also building their

knowledge of art history, and art theory - which are particularly valuable areas of knowledge

for participating in the contemporary art scene in every and any capacity.

The course has given me the space to take risks in my own work, whilst allowing enough

support to avoid feeling completely lost. This has led to me feeling very confident working

independently. Furthermore, seeing art history with a broader view than that understood in

our ‘western colonial’ popular culture has brought a greater appreciation for ideas and

values held in different cultures, both contemporary and historical.

Both my parents work in the arts, so I haven’t received any backlash from them as they both

went to art schools. My school obviously wanted me to do something more academic

because I had high academic attainment but equally, teachers recognised that I was

determined to do what I wanted to do and didn’t put any roadblocks in my way -

occasionally giving me opportunities to integrate my create interests into my academic

studies. I was very lucky in that sense.


The government cuts, to me, appear to be blatant class warfare committed against those

already disadvantaged by Conservative austerity, by an ever more fascistic Tory government. Quite simply, the cuts will not impact the wealthy as much as those less well off - an issue generally with cuts to education - as the wealthy have greater opportunity to

hire tutors or attend supplementary private courses, etc. We’ve seen with covid that the

ugly face of the attainment gap is shown in all its true horror when families are relied on to

provide their own learning materials - whether it be laptops or jotters and schoolbooks.

When students are relied on to provide their own materials for arts courses, these

inequalities become similarly apparent, as what students can work with, and learn with, is limited not by the scale of their ambition, but by the size of their bank account. Teaching

contact hours are already incredibly limited, and the budgets of art departments around the

country are already incredibly tight.

Without the support of teaching staff, without the materials, without our own governments support, students studying in the arts will feel a direct and devastating reduction in the quality of their education. What’s worse however, is that we will face another generation of talented young people who may reconsider their ambitions within the arts because of the economic cost. Not only is this a great shame for those students but will come at both a great cultural AND economic price to us all.’



Alicia, she/her, 20, from Harrogate, studying Theatre and Performance at the University of

Leeds


‘Although I’ve only been studying this course for a year so far, it has massively benefitted

me already. It offers a brilliant step up from high school drama with the opportunity to

explore art and theatre in depth. I’ve not only been able to explore what performance is but

also what performance is to me, and its profound usage in everyday life. I was also able to

perform many practical tasks and enjoyed them despite being under covid restrictions. I

have greatly developed my practical skill and my theatrical knowledge.


For me, one of the most beneficial moments of my course was during a module called

‘Exploring performance in different cultures and contexts’. It offered a refreshing alternative

to the mainstream western-centric curriculum. For my assessment presentation I was able

to explore performance within St Kitts Independence Day. This allowed me to connect my

course of study and my passion of theatre with my roots in Caribbean culture. I’ve never

experienced any major backlash for choosing this course, but it is obviously not respected as

much as other degrees. People will laugh at you or assume that your course is super easy.

Once, I remember telling my high school physics teacher I needed to revise for my drama

exam, and he laughed and said, ‘Don’t you drama queens just dance around on the desks in

the exam hall?’.


I am disgusted by these funding cuts but sadly I am not surprised. A lot of people’s lack of

respect for theatre and performance is driven by misconceptions surrounding the subject.

Performance isn’t just people dancing around on a stage, it’s part of our everyday lives. It

contributes to our learned behaviours and our social interactions. It is the basis of every

movement. Every protest, every festival, every speech is a form of performance. It is

simplified so it can be easily ridiculed.


These cuts are damaging and hypocritical. Politicians cannot simultaneously condemn

theatre and watch TV or films or Netflix. Without theatre none of these things would even

exist, and in a society driven by media how can we pretend that the arts are not important?

Art is so unique in the fact that there are no parameters or limits. The only thing art must do

to be considered art is to make you feel something. Even if you simply feel entertained or

distracted. Art is one of the only subjects that requires humanity. Things like Maths and the

laws of science would exist whether humans discovered them or not, but art is intrinsically

human.


Of course, these cuts will also impact working class and therefore people of colour the most.

Middle- and upper-class people can afford to attend theatre schools, dance clubs, and learn

how to play musical instruments. However, many rely on their school curriculums for access

to the arts. So effectively the government is simply making it harder for working class

people and people of colour to explore what they are passionate about. These cuts are devastating, and we can only hope that all these Tories see how damaging their choices are

before it’s too late.’


Athena, she/they, 20, lives in Bath but born in Ireland, studying Commercial Music at Bath

Spa University


‘Going into the first year of my course, it sort of felt like a catch-up session, repeating

everything that I had learnt in college and myself over the first few years of becoming

serious about music. It wasn’t unwelcoming though-I felt like it had solidified the basics that

I needed to know, especially about music production. Moving onto the second year of

commercial music felt like a little bit of a rollercoaster ride, while there was some incredibly

useful information being brought to the table there was also a lot of times where it felt that

we weren’t being pushed to our potential nor being listened to about the direction of our

careers and life. This was a small percentage of the time though, so I think we’re very lucky

with what we have on the course. The best opportunities we have, however, are the doors

that have been opened for us and the love we receive on our lifes work.


Personally, I’ve found such a change in myself since starting the course. It encourages you to

try new things and push yourself to lengths you don’t think you could. I’ve become a more

confident musician and more confident in myself as a person. I found that through the

building of my skills in music on this course and the knowledge that I have gained I’ve

become self-assured that I am on the right path which in turn helps to build self-composure.

I was given an outlet to express myself through the course, especially in a module called

“Visual Identity”.


It’s always felt like I've been met with resistance, not even just beginning here with the

course in university. For example, in secondary school I got chosen to attend the University

fair because my “goals were unrealistic” (aka I wanted to do something that wasn’t admin). I

found that coming to university for music has distanced me from the people I once

considered friends that were telling me it was unrealistic and that it was a waste of time.

I’m now surrounded by talented and like-minded people who are driven just as much as myself.


It is no secret that the arts are a part of every industry. I would like to see companies thrive

without logos, without websites, without advertisement. Radios would be redundant, and

there would be no photographers to fill politicians’ egos when they walk out of Number 11.

It’s upsetting to know that all the work that we put in over quarantine, raising money,

finding ways to keep the music industry alive and frankly, finding ways to keep our passion

alive, has been spit on by the government. I personally would like to see the country survive

a lockdown with media, without social media, without TV, without music, without art. We

all know the answer is that it would be impossible, and they know that too, but it doesn’t

directly affect them, so they don’t care. This isn’t the first cut we’ve seen while we’re in

education and I doubt it will be the last. We had to run fundraisers in my secondary school

so we could afford to not be studying in a temporary building.

The students must work their passion at 11-16 just to be able to continue with it. It feels hopeless most times, that I dedicate my life to a craft, something I would beg for as a child, and I’m forced out of it either way. So many involved in arts will lose their taste for life and it won’t make a difference because as far as the government is concerned if their seats are warm, they’re happy.


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