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Friday, 8 April 2011

Remember To Support The Arts

Life is difficult for everyone at the moment. Thanks to government cuts (whether you believe them justified or not), most ordinary people are struggling in one way or another. I'd imagine - although I don't know for certain - that people creating "unnecessary" luxuries of life will be suffering more than most. I heard it during some of the radio debates on the arts funding cuts: who needs art really, what does it accomplish?

Well, just to digress for a moment. Books (if you're willing to buy used) are one of the cheapest forms of entertainment going. They're also an excellent way to learn and, come on, who doesn't like the feel of a book in their hands? Feel free to roll your eyes at my enthusiasm. After all, you can watch television and search for information on the Internet, can't you? Yes, of course you can. But reading a novel and getting lost in it is an unrivalled experience. Equally, I like good old fashioned library looks for learning from - I believe in them more. However, small publishers were particularly battered by the Arts Council this year. One of my favourite publishers of short stories and poetry, Salt Publishing, were unsuccessful in their bid, although they have luckily received a reprieve in the form of some ADVANCE funding. However, other small presses haven't been so lucky. ARC Publications lost their funding in a move which is both demoralising and potentially debilitating for them. Flambard Press are ceasing operation in 2012.

All this is bad news for writers. Small presses are notoriously helpful towards younger writers. Most of them have made it a mission to encourage new talent. If we lose those organisations then new writers are going to struggle more than they already do. Personally, I don't want my book market to be dominated by Katie Price's thirtieth autobiography and the latest copycat book involving a wizard or a brooding vampire. I like exciting fiction and moving towards a system where small presses are increasingly frozen out is not to my tastes at all.

On a more local level, my closest theatre in Wakefield lost their funding. It seemed particularly baffling as they've just entered into a lucrative partnership and are celebrating their twenty fifth birthday this year. One theory bandied around my household is that good old-fashioned theatre just isn't trendy any more. Case in point: the new Barbara Hepworth Gallery down the road received a bump to their grant, some of which could easily have been passed onto the theatre instead. Our theatre's beautiful and I really don't want to lose it.

You can debate about the rights and wrongs of the Arts Council cuts in the grand scheme of things as much as you want. However, it doesn't change the facts. Did you know that 49% of funding has gone to London groups? This is only down by 1% on the 2010 figures. Personally, I find that ludicrous. Similarly, all the groups that The Telegraph labelled as the big winners were from London. The losers? Sheffield Museums, Derby Theatre and Exeter Northcott Theatre. Yes, there were some losers in London but, looking at it, not the majority. I realise that taking a slice out of all funding wasn't the right way to go about it. It did have to be assessed on a case by case basis. I'm just concerned about the North/South divide and the impact on small companies already struggling with the recession. Could the biggest organisations not have taken a small cut to keep these afloat?

So what can we do to help? Well, support the suffering groups. On the day the cuts were announced I bought a book from Salt Publishing to show solidarity (a short story collection I'm looking forward to reading). They've been using the Twitter hashtag #JustOneBook and it applies to all small presses, even those who haven't had their funding wiped out. These small presses are the lifeblood of fiction. Pay full price, buy directly through their websites. Don't give third parties like Amazon any more of the pie than they've already got.

Support your local museums, gallery and theatres. Due to my sudden interest in Wakefield Theatre Royal I stumbled across the Wakefield Drama Festival 2011, being held there at the end of May and into early June. Seven plays in seven nights! Several of which can be legitimately linked to my PhD (one is about Branwell Bronte and another is about the Road murder of 1860). I've bought a week pass for £45 and I'm definitely looking forward to it. The thing is, your local groups don't just need support, they deserve it as well. Most of them do exceptional work which won't be missed until it's gone. By then it'll be too late.

Support the arts!

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