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A War of Attrition: The Arts Need Saving

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'In Battalions', a research-led report by Fin Kennedy and Helen Campbell Pickford has been in the news recently for its assertion that the British theatre scene is 'shrivelling': governmental cuts to the arts have caused a distinct decline in the possibility of investing in new writing and, therefore, the future of theatre. This is by no means an isolated case, either: the gloomy theatrical forecast can just as easily be applied to the entirety of the arts sector in general, over all the varied and disparate and wonderful prongs that stem from that broad umbrella. It has become apparent that a sustained governmental attack on the arts is in progress. The reduction in local authority funding of £23,000 over the next three years and a total withdrawal of support planned for 2016-17 give the distinct impression that Cameron is looking up from Angry Birds long enough to launch a war of attrition against cultural and artistic opportunities.

Since the appointment of Maria Miller as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in September 2012 the effects have been obvious and immediate, and would be completely laughable if they weren't so heart-breaking. As well as having thoroughly questionable views on equality -she has voted in favour of defining homophobia and racial hatred as 'freedom of speech' and against the gay adoption rights, against the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, against the progress of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill- Miller has caused consternation in the arts world by her total avoidance of meeting any of the key figures involved in our cultural institutions, prompting vocal concern from the likes of Danny Boyle, Nicholas Hytner and the Guardian's Charlotte Higgins amongst numerous others. Miller appears to have little interest in gathering the opinions of those most qualified to provide her with advice about the way to ensure cuts can be made in the most sustainable way possible, preferring instead to distance herself entirely from those her policy will be directly affecting.

Hytner has also pointed out that it won't be institutions like the National Theatre, or the Royal Opera House, or the National Portrait Gallery that suffer from the cuts: these institutions are fortunate enough to have the reputation and contacts base that enables them to draw on private sources for funding, and are too established to face any serious direct threat. Instead, it is the regional theatres, art galleries, dance studios and community centres that will suffer, particularly those outside of London. Between 1979 and 1992 25% of regional theatres closed down due to funding cuts, and the removal of regional artistic opportunities affects the national institutions too: the youth theatres, the art classes, the poetry workshops that provide a little blessing for millions across Britain cannot continue to exist without support.

The usual responses to concerns about this, usually made by self-proclaimed 'realists', justify this by bringing up the recession like an irrefutable trump card, with financial concerns beating artistic ideals every time, like scissors over paper. The arts are not necessary, we are told. They just aren't as important as all of the other things we can't afford. True, we cannot argue that the arts are as necessary in an immediate sense as the education system, or the NHS - not that those aren't also being dismantled like Lego castles, by the way- but if we begin to accept only things that are strictly necessary as important, somewhere along the line we've begun to miss the point.

The value of the arts cannot be quantified, but this mustn't be mistaken for an assumption that they are therefore valueless. You only have to watch the 2002 documentary Feltham Sings, or see a child drawing a terrible picture of a spaceship in glitter and green felt-tip, or read one single poem to understand that the value of the arts is not the kind to be worked out with a calculator and one eye on what is essentially a very large national overdraft. A reduction in funding reduces in turn the opportunities for people to discover what they like, whether it's watching other people or creating something themselves, something that can help bring a little more joy into the bad day, or the bad week, or the bad year.

A recession usually means that for lots of people- and not the people making the decisions about what gets funded- things are going badly and are set to get worse. Stripping away opportunities to experience the feeling release and expression, or just simply the entertainment that the arts provide is an act that will be more detrimental to the general well-being of society than mere number-crunching can calculate. The old aphorism may be a cliché, but it serves as a warning: some people are so poor all they have is money.