Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Culture costs

I received a beautiful piece of art the other day from an artist I know very well. The work, a visual arts piece, showed an arrangement of crayons forming a full colour spectrum with those tones converging and blending as they flow down the canvas to come together in one word at the bottom: DAD.

The artist of course, is my eleven-year old daughter and as a depiction of an artful connection with her father, it is just beautiful.
But such a direct, unambiguous statement about the relevance of creativity to how we relate to each other could be a metaphor for the potential centrality of art and its connection to all our lives.

In the doom-laden, Push Me-Pull You shrieking over recent weeks, it’s sometimes hard to recognise the arts as the existential motivator and reflector that they can be. The arguments about who gets what and who deserves most of our dwindling public purse tends to overlook just what a creative sector brings to this place. 

Take for example Culture Night, a celebration of every facet of ourselves from opera through to mask-making, fine arts and circus, punk rock and jazz dance and indeed the conviviality and essential, creative life-skill of cookery. And a load more in between. What Culture Night does, free of charge for all who participate, is show how truly accessible the arts are and how eminently enabled we are as a people, a place, a society to participate in that celebration.

But a lot of what Culture Night represents is hidden, as so much of the necessary logistics of arts organisation tends to be. Supporting over 200 events, through permissions, venues, equipment, marshalling, insurance, traffic management, artist selection, procurement, staging, lighting etc etc etc takes resources, real, actual money.

One night of free participation costs -  not so much in the grand scheme of things, but it requires investment.

So be it for the public subvention of the arts. To have a participative, accessible, inspiring, creative sector requires investment - real, actual money. Not a huge amount in the grand scheme of things – say £19 million out of a £10 billion budget- one fifth of one percent ...but significant in all that. If that quantum is at risk, then that access to the arts may be too.

If you have walk around Cathedral Quarter in Belfast during Culture Night you can see why 40,000 people last year revelled in the experience and celebrated the creativity of this place. Here - at every turn, something different, unique, entertaining and wonderful was on offer. At that precise moment, across so many towns and cities, that incredible culture offer was appreciated by hundreds of thousands of people, many of them experiencing the arts first hand, for first time. 

And so it goes for our beleaguered arts sector. There is so much on offer from a huge array of organisations, each specialising and supporting an area of creative participation and all dependant on public support and funding. Each of these organisations shares a passionate determination to engage us, the public, in the arts. We, as a society, deserve to be inspired, supported, challenged and assisted in deepening our understanding of the arts and the creative connection we can share with thousands of others. 

My eleven year old understands this. She knows that creativity is important. She knows it adds the colour to our lives. She loves the fact that she can share that joy with others. We all deserve it. And as a place, in difficult times, perhaps we need it more than ever.

Support your arts. Support your public services. Support Culture Night and all who make it what it is.
And, we’ll see you smiling and cheering on 19th September.

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