by Candice Nembhard

In times of national or personal struggle, we have long since turned to our favourite books, records or films for companionship and reassurance. We find comfort in these creative endeavours – the note of a song or the rhythm of a sentence – that often mirror the nuances of daily existence. Yet, whilst we use these tools of communication, we have yet to fully support them with our time, interest and money. With authorisation from government officials, local authorities have seen their arts funds and budgets cut consistently since 2010. Consequently, libraries, art galleries and museums have been affected most, with numerous closures occurring across the country.

Although exact figures are unknown, according to the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) around 250 school librarians were lost in between 2012 and 2014, with little to no adequate funding to support them or the school. This comes at a time where the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has ranked English teenagers between the ages of 16-19 with the lowest literacy levels of the 23 ‘developed nations’. These levels of illiteracy and problems with numeracy go undetected among university graduates with the study concluding that 7% of 20 – 34 year old graduates posses literacy and numeracy skills below Key Stage 2.

( via )

( via )

With around 5.2 million adults described as ‘functionally illiterate‘, and the legal requirement to stay in education until 18 years of age, we have placed greater pressure on teachers and academics alike to support young children in the face of job cuts and under resourced teaching facilities. As a result, cultural and social interests such as theatre, cinema and field trips that have long supported formal education, go undervalued and eventually bust.

Perhaps the discussion of money is not ‘proper’ when it comes to commission-based entertainment, but like any other facet of contemporary society – be it law or science-based advancements – the arts need funding too. Philanthropy and creativity underpin the art world: be it grants or prizes, we have placed much emphasis on the cultural value of art, yet continue to neglect the capital needed to sustain it.

like any other facet of contemporary society – be it law or science-based advancements – the arts need funding too.

Across the UK, regional art galleries funded by the National Lottery are reported to be at risk. The New Art Gallery in Walsall and the Inverleith House in Edinburgh face imminent closure due to local authority cuts and austerity measures. Walsall council will see its budget cut right across the board, affecting not only the gallery but the leather museum, arts centres and local libraries.

Opened in 2000, The New Art Gallery was kickstarted with £16.5m in National Lottery revenue but now faces a funding cut that could be reduced by 25% each year for the next four years. According to Councillor Richard Worral of Walsall:

The harsh reality, which many voted for at the last general election, was the continuation of “austerity”, so that taxpayers’ money (our money!) previously returned to local authorities to provide adequate local services and facilities continues to be massively withheld by the government, so that we all end up paying more for much less service and sometimes none at all. The moral is this: you get what you vote for.

(The Guardian, November 2016)

Similarly in Edinburgh, Inverleith House – which hosts the Royal Botanical Garden – will have its £90,000 Creative Scotland budget ceased as the building is soon to be closed. Regarded as staples in contemporary and visual art, New Art and Inverleith are only a few of many publicly funded services that are finding themselves under financial pressure. With alleged diverting of funding into social care services such as the NHS, despite Virgin Care’s recent £700m acquisition of over 200 NHS social services, it seems we are neglecting an important component of cultural development and replacing it with misleading claims of national enrichment.

Graduate schemes and placements cannot ask for well-rounded, cultured, and experienced individuals if we are denying young people the opportunity to get involved with social and locally based projects. Similarly, it is disrespectful to demand the work of writers, curators and artists for poems, curations and installations to address current international problems, but not source or pay for their work other days of the year. The production value of art is almost laughable considering the lack of respect we give those who decide to make it.

The production value of art is almost laughable considering the lack of respect we give those who decide to make it.

It’s almost as if art production and interest has been placed in a time capsule reserved for the walls of the National Gallery or the Tate, thus denying the wonderful emergence of contemporary art to flourish. Moreover, when hallowed institutions are demanding extortionate entry prices to view shows, but refuse to pay staff and artists a fair wage, we have grossly misjudged and undervalued the communal and entertainment value of contemporary art.

( Ibiye Camp © Victoria and Albert Museum )

( Ibiye Camp © Victoria and Albert Museum )

Gal-dem’s takeover of the V&A museum is perhaps one of the most interesting ventures in contemporary attitudes to art. The party which saw débuts from local artists of colour brought to light outdated and non-inclusive values, often held by organisations who refuse to accept these ideals as faulty. We have a tendency today to look backwards in art, sometimes denying access or legitimacy for young artists, who more often than not are following or taking lead from those that we value.

Art is not static, nor does it wait for anyone. Creative interests flow from lived experiences into imagined scenarios and unfortunately its success is at the hands of the few that hold the funding to make it possible. The wealth of a country does not simply come from pound sterling, it is found in how we choose to talk, discuss and represent it in song, in verse and in film.

Featured image via ArtsWestchester

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