F*ck the Arts, right?
In 2016, you could be forgiven for thinking that the arts aren’t really worth anything anymore. Since the government introduced it’s new policy that focuses on STEM subjects and prioritises them over everything else, any hope of help or investment for the creative industries has disappeared. From universities across the UK taking all additional funding out of their creative programmes, to education secretaries telling students that studying art subjects won’t get them a job, the sector that I know and love has been steadily and systematically shunted to the sidelines. Devalued, ignored and belittled, the arts now stands.
But even by the Government’s own research, this is a blinding mistake to make. Figures released by gov.uk show that the growth rate of the Creative Industries is double that of the UK economy as a whole. Our sector contributes £10m an hour to the economy, and Britain always has been, and continues to be, a world leader when it comes to exports to the world stage. From Adele to Sherlock, Dr Who to One Direction, British creative exports are household names the world over, yet still the lack of appreciation for the sector still exists.
Surely though, one would think, the Government would at least appoint someone to overlook this incredibly important industry who has a background from it. Surely that would be logical? Yet the current Secratary Of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Karen Bradley, could not be further from the leader that the creative industries needs. Graduating from university with a Bsc in Mathematics, Karen Bradley worked for Deloitte, KPMG, and her own tax company before entering parliament and securing jobs in the Whips Office and the Home Office. A rising star with an impressive resume? Yes. A good fit for Culture Secretary? I don’t think so. Yet it now seems so boringly typical that one of the most important government jobs, one that oversees not just a massive industry but the very thing that makes Britain British, our culture, is now a place where our Prime Minister puts people that she thinks deserve a promotion, but doesn’t have anywhere else to slot them in.
While it is easy (and fair) to pin the blame on this for the Government, we must also turn our gaze to our official opposition, the Labour Party, and their systematic failure to promote those capable of filling the post.
In the last parliament the office of Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has seen three different MPs; first Michael Dugher, a disgruntled Blairite shoehorned into the cabinet to keep him quiet. After him came Maria Eagle, demoted from her position at Shadow Defence but given this under-appreciated sector in the hope that she wouldn’t make too much of a fuss. And now the role is filled by Kelvin Hopkins; a man who has worked in politics his whole life, whose only claim to the sector was that he played a bit of jazz at university.
Even in the last parliament under Ed Miliband the position was still devalued. The role was filled with politics graduates, ex charity workers and lawyers, and the closest we ever came to someone with an actual cultural background was when Chis Bryant briefly held the role, but even his Bachelor of Arts was only in English. It is no surprise that this culture has arisen where the arts are consistently sidelined when the official opposition can’t even put someone proper in the role, let alone kick up a fuss about the cuts the sector faces.
So when it comes to our own campuses, our own institutions, how does this culture manifest itself?
At Middlesex University, where I am elected to represent creative students, we are quite lucky compared to what some of our colleagues nationally must face. Our creative students have good facilities and strong leadership within the faculty, but that doesn’t mean that we are without issues. Our building closes early, compared to the library used mainly by non-creative students that stays open all night. Our specialist facilities are generally freely accessible to all students, so those who don’t need them can wander into them and play around (and they do), while science labs and phycology facilities are locked down meticulously so that only the students who need them have access. Our fashion, design and photography students often end up with astronomically large hidden course costs, having to shell out £1000’s for materials for their end of year shows. And perhaps most tellingly of all, the part of campus where we are based is badly lit, dangerous to walk through and rarely visited by security. Some may call this all coincidence, but I believe it is too systematic to be so.
So often, when presented with these problems, those in charge tend to throw their hands in the air, sigh and say ‘but what can be done?’ For me, however, the answers are there.
Firstly, we have to change the culture around the arts and creative industries, and this starts from a young age. We have to invest in creative education throughout all levels of the education system, but especially in primary schools. We have to have an equal emphasis on teaching our young people about arts and creativity, and by doing this we will instil values in them that will ensure that our next generations values creativity in a way that we don’t.
Alone however this is not enough. Politics has to match this commitment in two clear ways. Firstly, by investing in what is one of Britain’s most important industries. Government figures show that the creative industry is a leading contributor to the UK’s economic recovery, and as such the Government should be fuelling this by investing in it, not cutting funding levels for a vital area.
And secondly, politics as a whole can help by simply taking it seriously. As long as everyone else in the UK can look at our leaders using the department responsible for creativity as a political plaything, a place to put those who need to be kept happy, then the rest of the UK can sideline it in the same way. Westminster needs to show leadership here by giving the department for Media, Culture and Sport the respect it deserves, and by promoting people into the positions who actually have a passion for the arts and a connection to the industry.
In 2016 you could be forgiven for thinking that the arts aren’t really worth anything anymore, but we cannot forgive those who have systematically made that perception a reality. There needs to be a serious change in the way we treat the arts, creativity and culture immediately, or before we know it they will have all have disappeared, and the next John Lennon will simply be an engineer or an accountant instead.