Who Can Help the Arts Flourish In the Age Of Austerity?

Photo from Entelechy Arts

No Boundaries

So the ‘established cultural leaders’ are meeting in York and Bristol this month to discuss the Role of Culture in 21st Century at the conference No Boundaries

That sound great. They have some fantastic eloquent and wise speakers and the list of delegates is impressive. They are also giving away giving free tickets for young artists which is perfect.

Jude Kelly, Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre, will be there. She is one of the great motivating speaker for the arts and I have been inspired by her many times over the years.

In the video below she discusses how well she feels the arts and culture sector is represented when education policy is set, important ideas.

I won’t be at the conference but, if I could have been there, I would be expressing a few thoughts and ideas close to my heart. It will, however, be all livestreamed and online free for the whole event, with all the speakers – so we can all still join in.

I believe the arts are not integrated into society in England (I say England because it is an Art Council England funded project). The arts have not been embraced by millions of people in this country because they are not thought to be important in their lives.  Central governments and local authorities across England have also not taken the arts seriously as a contributor to people’s wellbeing and to recognise the real benefits that they can gain from an involvement in the arts and creativity.

I believe that the arts are still bound up by a class system that, unbelievably, still exists in our country. They are regarded by some people, as something ‘posh people do’, even today, despite the ‘audience development programmes’ and the ‘Creative People, Creative Places’ schemes.

I am beginning to believe that this opinion is cultivated by the establishment because it justifies their own sense of superiority and their belief in their own inherent civilised behaviour. “The people on ‘Benefit Street’ don’t need the arts”, they say “they need to get off their arses and get themselves into some jobs”. I know that is a bit of a cliche, but I was told that cliches are cliches because they are often true.

There is, however, an extraordinary growth in the community arts movement in England. Participation in the arts is increasing year by year as expressed, for example, in the DCMS paper ‘Taking Part’ published in March 2012.

People who participate in the arts go and see other arts projects.

So let us work harder in getting more people involved in professional participation arts projects. Let us invest more in Community Theatre. Let us not turn our noses up at Amateur Theatre, but rather advocate the benefits of community/amateur arts and recognise their true worth.

Francois Matarosso writes brilliantly about his experience at The West Bromich Operatic Society in his article Producing ‘The Producers‘, for example

One of the areas that is expanding rapidly is the work arts organisations are doing with the elderly.

Apparently engagement by adults aged 65-74 and 75 plus has increased significantly since 2005/06 – from 71 per cent to 75 per cent for 65-74 year olds and from 58 per cent to 63 per cent for aged 75 and over. (‘Taking Part’)

Look at the pioneering work of companies like Entelechy Arts, for example.

In an introduction to a report by the Baring Foundation, ‘Ageing Artfully: Older People and Professional Participatory Arts in the UK’,  Dame Joan Bakewell talks of the work that the Baring Foundation has been supporting.

“In 2009 the Baring Foundation launched a new fund for arts organisations in the UK working in a participative way with older people. This mapping study primarily looks at the kind of work that could be supported by this fund.

The report begins with the broad context of our ageing society, the discrimination and disadvantage faced by older people and at the voluntary sector organisations that serve them.

The Baring Foundation sets out in this major report a picture of the situation that exists across all art forms – dance, music, drama, painting – as a way of engaging and invigorating the older generation. In so doing it draws attention to work done abroad, in America and in Ireland, and the research that shows the benefits of the arts to us all.

I have always believed that arts need no other justification than their own intrinsic value, their capacity to lift the spirit and give us experiences of transcendental and inspirational power. And that remains true. But there are adjacent benefits that hold particular force in the lives of the elderly. This report makes the case that participation in the arts increases our personal sense of wellbeing, often in some cases actual physical improvement. Stiff limbs and muscles brought into renewed use in dance, help keep people mobile and improve our sense of balance, an important consideration when falls are such a risk among the old. There is evidence from America that participation by those suffering from dementia offers positive benefits. There are case histories closer to home that demonstrate how the arts bring communities and generations closer together, help relieve the isolation so many old people suffer, and bring new friendships into their lives.

This report sets the agenda for how we can move forward. Its range and detail describe not only how the old in the UK already enjoy the arts, and of how arts institutions reach out to this growing constituency, but also draws attention to the many opportunities that await us in the future. Its vision is of an ageing population able to enjoy the riches and pleasures of our abundant cultural life. I commend its thoroughness and the concept of public good that informs its pages.”

Joan Bakewell

Old Dogs New Tricks

(c) David Wardle

I  believe the future for the arts is not always with the young – sometimes good ideas come from the old.

The elderly still have so much to contribute. My own work at “The Performance Ensemble”, developing a professional theatre company with performers over the age of 60 – working in the space between ‘professional, community and amateur arts practise’ – creating contemporary performance – is a case in point.

We are bringing together artists of great experience and talent to make work that is new and visceral. We start our work in the heart of communities, working with local people, as was seen in our recent production, “Dancing Days.

Older performers are so often forgotten and yet they have much more to offer. Old dogs can teach us new tricks. People in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and upwards are still capable of creating great artistic works that can speak to audiences of all ages.

When we first set off to create a company we devised a work in progress, only inviting a few people to see the work . One of our visitors, a Relationship Manager fro ACE, wrote to us:

“Congratulations on the showing on Friday, which was of such high quality – there was a tangible sense that something rather special was coming into being. I particularly enjoyed the quality of presence which all the performers had, imbued with the generosity and solid grounding of experience. I found the energy of the ensemble profoundly affecting, and think there are all sorts of audiences out there who would too. The showing gave a strong indication of the potential of this initiative, and I will be interested to see which of the various paths possible for its future development you choose to take.”

So please, conference of “No Boundaries” don’t think that the future of the arts in the 21st Century can only be devised by the young and emerging artists of tomorrow. Don’t forget the older artists of yesterday, still full of energy, still with lots to say, still with lots of opinions, still able to teach us something and still with exciting visions for the future.