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.

Let’s create a data base to share community arts projects – together

Welfare State International

Last night I put a call out to people asking them to help me create a comprehensive data base of community arts projects from around the world.

Wow – I said to myself  – that’s ambitious and a life long job  –  can I really take it on?

However the response online was immediate and people started re-tweeting and I had only put my toe in the water. So I thought to myself we should do it. We can learn so much from each other. We can create a more effective community to lobby for support – together

So here is my thinking – let’s try and do it together.

We can create a page on this web site and to start with just listing the thousands and thousands of projects happening today – as we get resources we can start employing people to manage the list – but to start with we need to just do it ourselves.

I have a page here called links – This could be the place to start.

Send details of your projects to this site

I am asking everybody to send details of their projects and in the first stage I will add details to that list. I need a link to web pages and a short paragraph of what you do, why you do it and where you are  – maybe a little bit about how you do it too.

You can do this on the comments space at the end of the page. I will transfer what you send me to the links page and slowly it will become a data base of like minded individuals and organisations

I am no expert on how to set up data bases and I am a one-man band here at Community Arts International but I think we can do it together  – we can create this together.

I think it would be useful if we started to know more about each other – Don’t you?

I know that it is very hard to look outside our immediate projects because it is such hard work managing what we already do – but I am sure it is worth getting to know how other projects work. How do projects survive in this “Age of Austerity”? I hear all the time of programmes having to cancel projects and some  programmes stopping altogether.

We need the arts more than ever. Those of us that believe the arts are a useful and  a proven vehicle for the transformation of lives and can bring about change in communities – need to stick together.

We need a collective voice to impress on governments around the world that the arts are necessary in a civilised society – that as some grow poorer and some grow richer the arts are the natural place where balance can be retained and that change can happen.

Please add the details of your projects  – and others that you know about – to the comments section anywhere on this site and I will find them.

We won’t get this organised tomorrow but we will get it organised together.