When you’ve worked in the arts for many years, you might be forgiven for looking a little askance at any new campaign to make the case for arts funding. It’s a cyclical battle that comes round with depressing regularity and the questions it raises never really change.
What language can we use to describe the value of the arts? What constitutes persuasive evidence of public benefit? Do the arts matter for their intrinsic worth or for their instrumental impact? How can we make the economic case? And, crucially, who is best placed to make the arguments? And to whom?
Darren Henley’s review of Cultural Education in England has just been published, to a broadly positive reaction among commentators in the arts and education sectors. It contains some interesting proposals and appears to move away from the approach of the previous government in certain key respects.
Two items in the media over the weekend got me thinking about the perennially contentious subject of what the arts are for and whether or not they should be subsidised.
- Jason Gibilaro, Red Flag, 2009
I found myself listening to a programme on Radio 4 about the folk singer Ewan MacColl, whose pioneering role in the revival of British folk music in the 1960s was closely informed by his Marxist beliefs.
MacColl was famously abrasive, dogmatic and hostile to the ‘élitism’ of the arts establishment. But like many of us perhaps, he was also inconsistent in the application of his principles.