Thursday, 30 December 2010

Cuts to the Arts

Richard Williamson is a professional musician who coordinates Music Network, which brings together Christians in the music profession. On his blog, Music Ministry, he posts on the effect of cuts to the arts.   Just down the road from where I live, the Central Bedfordshire Council intend to stop funding their music service from 2012. Other Councils intend to do the same or to reduce funding by 50%. The effect will be that the only young people who will get instrumental tuition will be those who can afford to pay for it in full.

Richard writes, 'There is a major short-sightedness in the decisions that are being taken. On the face of it, cutting funding for the arts is an easy road to take. Very few will complain as many see those involved in the arts as elitist and undeserving of Government support. You only have to read comments on various forums on this subject to see that many in this country believe that the arts should be able to "stand on their own feet" and that such elitist groups don't deserve "government handouts".
'However it is my belief that if you remove funding from the arts, there is great danger of ripping the soul out of a nation. The fact is that most arts organisations would be unable to survive without public funding. Britain has a rich cultural heritage and it is that cultural heritage that has defined us as a nation over centuries. If the arts are decimated, we stand in danger of irreparably damaging the heart and soul of the nation. If all we are willing to fund are the utilitarian 'useful' areas of our nation's life, we lose the very thing that makes us who we are.
'If we also remove opportunities for young people to learn to play an instrument, particularly in more deprived areas, we lose a force for good in society. It is a well attested fact that giving young people the opportunity to develop musical skills can begin to turn whole communities round. Look at Venezuela for example with the Simon Bolivar programme - but there are also examples here, such as El Sistema in Scotland and the 'In Harmony' programme currently running in Liverpool and elsewhere, not forgetting all of the wonderful education work done by many of the orchestras in the UK. Those of us who have been involved in such programmes can testify to lives, families and communities being transformed.
'What is most worrying is what we are storing up for the future if young people are not given these opportunities. It will be extremely difficult to stop us becoming a cultural desert if the tide starts rapidly receding from our cultural shoreline, and it will almost certainly have a very damaging impact on the whole fabric of our society.'
I'm with Richard on this.  He goes on to speak of the responsibility of Christian musicians, 'Each of us is called to bring something of the beauty, mystery, creativity and love of God to a world that is increasingly starved of these things. Without these life has little value ... We can share and celebrate beauty, we can help people see beyond the mundane to explore mystery of life, we can as creative people speak of the creator who brought everything into being with such astonishing diversity and we can share the love of God with those who have little hope.'
I'm hugely grateful for the opportunities that I had as a young person, only possible because music in the London Borough of Barking was heavily funded. Without that funding I wouldn't have come remotely close to being a musician. While I recognise this not as a right but a gift, I'm deeply concerned at the effect of withdrawing funding to our society.

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