When the Conservatives came to power this year, without even the Liberal Democrats to soften the inevitable multiple blows, many artists buckled up for more difficult years. I’m not one to buy the starving artist cliché, but it’s a reality that in these times, where arts funding is being cut (despite receiving a proportionally meagre amount), that being any kind of artist is going to be a struggle. It also means that it is sold as a less viable career path for young people, and the arts are placed back in the hands of the wealthy elite.
It is not only finances that may deter young people from perusing the arts, but this kind of landscape means it’s even harder to have the confidence to turn down the road not taken in the face of more traditional options. Although it often feels like there are more opportunities around for young people than when I was at school, it’s very rare that young people are taught that self-employment is an option. The picture is painted that there are not enough jobs out there for school-leavers and graduates, and so one would think a sensible option would be learning how to create your own job.
A lot of arts organisations are affected by cuts to the funding from Arts Council England, as well as competition becoming fiercer when it comes to individual grants.
What we need then is the support to carve out careers in the arts, and for those with enough motivation and perseverance, to not be judged negatively this, to not be told we are dreaming too big, that we are not being realistic. Working at a school, whether students say they want to be actors, doctors or scuba diving instructors, it’s the adults’ job to keep that dream alive, rather than dampen it with lectures about the importance of passing the GCSE English Language exam (also a massive part of my job).
This is why it was such devastating news to many of us that Ideas Tap closed down earlier this year – a relatively new arts organisation offering funding and other opportunities to young artists across all fields. Although they now operative under Hiive, Ideas Tap had, over the last six years, become a hub for artistic practitioners. It’s organisations like these, and Arts Emergency – fighting against arts as an elitist pursuit and giving young people the practical skills they need – that continue to give the arts renewed lifeblood. A lot of arts organisations are affected by cuts to the funding from Arts Council England, as well as competition becoming fiercer when it comes to individual grants.
For those of us who have recently turned 26, we are finding ourselves cast as no longer being a “young person”. This label is tied to government funding, but it’s unfortunate that the government can’t acknowledge the state of perpetual adolescence they have forced twenty-somethings across the UK into existing within. This state of being is inexplicably political. Without affordable housing, people like myself are able to gain the independence we need to fully begin to feel like we’ve hit adulthood. Many of us who attended university were closer to it those years ago than we find ourselves now.
Speaking personally, this is before I’ve even began to launch myself as an artist; I’m currently working full-time and pursuing the arts as a second job to which I dedicate almost every other living moment, often sacrificing socialising and time quality with family, not to mention sleep. Yet, to hope the government would increase this age bracket to 30, like Spread the Word has been able to do with the Young Poet Laureate for London scheme, is to expect as much as them building affordable housing the is actually, well, affordable.
This state of being is inexplicably political.
Earlier this year, The Guardian ran the story that literary criticism is bias towards male writers, despite it stating that women buy two-thirds of books sold. This gender imbalance is often linked to the lack of women writing for such literary magazines, but this isn’t always the case, and where it is, this shows the problem is two-fold. These kinds of issues are historic, and it becomes a web of inequalities, including the dominance of books by men in education, and the way men and women are socialised from an early age. These patterns, of course, extend to other art forms.
Remaining focused on literature, the canon, which filters directly into our education system, is dominated by white, middle/upper-class men. This obviously brings up intersections of power, and the fact that the art world remains to be structured as such, meaning POC are not given an even playing field to this day. This is why programmes like The Complete Works, which does work to develop Black and Asian poets in the UK, are so important. On its website, it states that less than 1% of poetry published nationally is by Black and Asian writers.
Funding for the arts – whether for young people, women, or those identifying as within a BME group – is critical. The arts are often pitted against, well, everything. The arts are seen as less deserving of funding, and are often the first thing to go in times of austerity. I don’t know about you, but if it wasn’t for the arts, ranging as broad as what we watch on television to the books on our shelves, I’m not quite sure there would be much point to life.