"Art A-level, yeh that's cool but it isn't a proper A-level is it?" - something I heard a lot growing up. Sure, I laughed this off, trying to take it in the light-hearted jest it was meant. But it's no laughing matter, the arts are integral to society with boundless benefits that encourage diversity, add to the economic climate and can even ease mental illness. Cuts to funding may seem like surface wounds but they could have deep consequences.
Instagram has democratised photography; the addictive app is a perfect example of how our appetite for the arts and visual stimuli is only growing. Yet the arts are often viewed as a devalued, side-lined subject in the education sector or an elitist hobby for the wealthy in adult life. It's one thing for my school friends to imply creative subjects are in someway 'inferior' to other seemingly traditional subjects, however it's another to have society affirm the prejudice in monetary value. Cuts are hitting the arts in a big way with a funding restrictions made on Arts Council funding, local government and most frighteningly for me, the education sector.
Being dyslexic, I know first-hand the huge relief that studying art and music brought to me at school. The subjects offered a balance between academic studies and challenging my creativity, providing a sanctuary from the constant mental struggle I felt when trying to keep up in other classes. It also helped me with my personal development; my performance in other subjects started to improve and I'm not alone on this. Research from multiple professors including James S. Cattrall shows that in order to achieve the full working potential of the mind and brain, it is vital to stimulate both the right hemisphere of the brain (emotional perception, intuition and creativity) as well as the left hemisphere (logical thinking and analytical processes) - balancing the book heavy subjects with a creative challenge. Both work together and complement one another and are essential to enable children to excel across the curriculum.
It has also been ascertained that the majority of children who have been exposed to a wide variety of arts are more likely to think 'outside the box', come up with inventive, ground-breaking ideas and be more successful in later life. These qualities are well sought after in the UK. Silicon Valley for example is a hub of creativity, built and thriving on the minds of those that think outside of the box every day. The same goes for the engineering and communications industries. Cutting back on the arts will have huge implications on the future of the UK's next 'big ideas'.
In wider society, mental health is a hot topic in the media at the moment, and rightly so. There is evidence that Art can actually help people's wellbeing. Take the psychiatric unit in Springfield University Hospital in Tooting which was recently renovated to drape the once bare walls in art donated by Turner Prize winning artists, as well as by patients themselves. The art on the walls has had an incredible impact on the patients. With mounting evidence that young people are feeling the pressure more than ever, we really should look towards the arts to contribute to the solution. The trend in adult colouring books is a good example that as well as looking at art, participating is also a therapeutic past time.
I'm fortunate enough that I pursued my passion for art and achieved my lifelong ambition to work in the arts industry full time. I work for Rise Art, a platform which aims to make great art accessible to all. I curate the works featured on the site and nurture the artists looking to sell their work but also speak to a range of people every day to teach and excite them about art, matching them to pieces they fall in love with.
I understand that cuts need to be made, and I can see how reduced art funding is a quick fix, but the long term effect would be detrimental. The arts inspire people, they nurture talent, experiences, encourage intellect, dialogue and opinion. They provide an outlet for expression and often mental relief for societal constraints. If local authorities continue to cut their cultural programmes and opportunities at this grassroots level, they risk losing a lot more than just a 'proper' A-level.