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We must support, not cut, working class access to arts and culture

We must support, not cut, working class access to arts and culture

Access to arts has been seen as expendable in the pandemic and beyond, writes Sharon Hodgson MP | Alamy

3 min read

Art takes many forms in life, shaping how we learn and how we feel. Art is essential. But we have a long way to go to make sure that art can be accessible for all.

The pandemic has had a devastating impact on our creative and cultural industries. From the pause to live performance, community-based art, closure of galleries and beyond, access to art has been severely restricted for those who can’t participate at home. 

In educational settings, the arts have suffered. From reception year to post-graduate, virtual learning has prevented many of these crafts from taking place. Arts subjects have been seen as expendable. 

Unfortunately, at university level the arts are suffering in a more long-term manner. The government recently announced proposals for a 50 per cent cut to Strategic Priorities Grant funding for art subjects like fine art, design, dance, music, and drama – a catastrophic move that could prove existential for the future of arts in the UK. 

I wrote to education secretary Gavin Williamson last week on this issue, to highlight that these plans could reverse the decades of effort to diversify the creative industries, while students from lower socio-economic backgrounds will be much worse off and risk finding their access blocked. 

Across the last 11 years, the government has continually prioritised science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects to fuel the future Britain. But, in doing so, kids in school are finding their opportunities limited and most don’t get to join in creative cultures outside of school. Many parents cannot afford the supplies and time needed to inspire creativity. 

Invisible barriers still existent in access to art – from the lack of expendable time, geographical barriers, lack of awareness and affordability

While art in some form is present in our everyday lives, many forms of art and ways of digesting culture have long been a privilege of the wealthy. Many of us assume that the arts just isn’t “our thing,” that galleries or theatres are intimidating places, and that the world of high culture just wasn’t built for us. Nobody wants this to be the case, but efforts have been slow to truly widen the reach of creative venues and the wealth of culture inside them. Would we feel different if we were welcomed to this art and its power was reinforced to us from a young age? 

In their recently published book, Talk Art, Russell Tovey and Robert Diament make an effort to try to unpick the confusion and fear enshrined in much of the often-exclusive art world, while emphasising the importance of creativity. There is no counting the wonders that creative spaces can do to warm a creative soul and inspire the next generations of artists. 

While this development is positive, we must also recognise that invisible barriers still existent in access to art – from the lack of expendable time, geographical barriers, lack of awareness and affordability. Now that venues like theatres and galleries are back open, we need to see people there, enjoying art that means something to them. 

We need to inspire the next generations, while building efficient avenues for creative culture across Britain to develop and thrive, inclusive of unique and untold narratives from diverse backgrounds. 

While art forms rooted in the working-class and marginalised communities continue to develop and thrive, from drag to design, there is a long way to go to ensure all art can be enjoyed by everyone. Meanwhile, as an increased number of barriers appear, we must recognise and defend access to creativity, to ensure that art continues to make our hearts sing.

 

Sharon Hodgson is Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West and chair of the APPG for Art Craft and Design in Education

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