Thursday, 19 February 2009

Could we persuade a nurse to fund the arts?

I mentioned recently the debate that's been taking place in the States about additional funding to the National Endowment for the Arts as part of the stimulus package. (I've already had emails using the phrase shovel-ready, by the way.) It seems this has been in, then out as a Senator tried to make it illegal to fund theatres and 'that sort of thing' through such a bill (I paraphrase broadly), then finally back in. Good news, but indicative of the issue. It's set out really well by Greg Sandow in the Wall Street Journal here.

I think he's right in many ways. Precision in our arguments is going to be important. We need to be positive as well as protective - the arts have a role in job creation as well as economic stimulus. We need to draw on every bit of evidence we have, look more closely at what we do and what it actually involves, and avoid special pleading. The kind of data Arts Council collects could be better used, I'm sure, and colleagues are working on it. The work done by Arts and Business and CCSkills is also helpful for local arguments. As a sector, it sometimes seems there's an instinctive nervousness about numbers part in telling a story, but they can very powerful.

We should, for instance, remind ourselves and politicians that jobs in the arts are proper jobs. Perhaps not well-paid at times, perhaps not standard, but real jobs. But many people who work 'in the arts' are not the obvious 'artytypes' but cleaners, administrators, craftsmen, accountants and so on. You can't make major public art works without major construction skills and building companies. When, say, local authorities are making choices it's worth reminding them of that. But everyone, even the luvviest of luvvies or most unusually bespectacled of installation artists, pays their taxes and spends their wages. Unfortunately (or so it feels to me, as I think it was at least partly what got us in this mess in the first place) that consumption-driven view is what's driving thinking around economic stimulus, so we have to make the case in a way it will be heard.

1 comment:

Geoffrey Crayon said...

Thing is that the cost of the arts always becomes the story and people don't tend to know the cost of other things or bring that knowledge into this debate.

In my stock example, wheelie bin fires, the Liverpool Echo is reporting necessary but completely unproductive costs of 7.3 million on Merseyside for the past two years.