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“IN ANY civilised community the arts and associated amenities, serious or comic, light or demanding, must occupy a central place. Their enjoyment should not be regarded as remote from everyday life.”
When Arts Minister Jenny Lee made this pledge in 1960, who knew that in 2019 this strategy would still be as important as it was at its initiation and, more shockingly, that it is still being fought for.
On reading Labour’s charter for the arts, I have to confess I shed a tear to see in black and white a future for the arts that I have longed dreamed of writ large.
The arts are at the centre of a civilised society and Jeremy Corbyn knows this more than any other party leader, he knows that creativity and expression are basic human needs. The human race is a race of story-tellers and performers. Since our arrival on the planet we have used song, dance and art as a way to communicate and express ourselves. It is essential not only as entertainment but also for our survival.
Art as an outlet is linked intrinsically to our health and wellbeing and the main problem we face today is inclusion. It’s common knowledge that many arts venues can have hefty ticket prices and lowering these prices is a start.
But the real issue we have to tackle is getting young people engaged in the first place, not perpetuating the idea that the arts are only for a privileged few. If we start at junior-school age encouraging youngsters to participate in an art form — Labour’s promise that every child will have the opportunity to play an instrument at school is one way to start to break down these barriers — outreach work is essential.
Arts and creativity need to become the norm within the more disadvantaged areas of society. We cannot go round enforcing this, it has to come from the people and what many of our towns are missing is encouragement and empowerment.
The Towns of Culture is a fantastic way of raising people’s confidence and giving them the facilities and finance to show off their creative prowess. The Cities of Culture have been huge successes, giving the arts and culture in cities like Hull the chance to flourish and show the nation what they are made of. This investment has a continuing legacy, with benefits for all.
Funding the Arts Council properly is another huge step. It does extraordinary work but more money is needed if it is to change more lives and support grassroots organisations that can capture talent and interest in the young and old and nurture it.
Labour promises an arts charter for all that will ensure nobody is overlooked or ignored, whatever their background. No talent will be missed and no-one will be excluded from the mental health benefits that the arts bring.
If we let the Tories — who think of the arts as a luxury and not a necessity — win, the effects on the arts, and us all, will be devastating.
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