Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Arts attack

Following on from Alex Preston's article about the monetisation of the arts and humanities within academia comes this piece from Suzanne Moore, which focuses on art schools but is more widely relevant. Moore identifies increasing unaffordability and government cuts as additional threats to an arts and humanities education, as well as the imposition of market forces. Quite rightly, she's in no doubt over the gravity of the situation, or the value of the arts and humanities: "Maths, science and engineering are vital. But so are music, design, architecture, poetry, painting: these are the ways we redraw and remake our shared world."

The big squeeze and swingeing cuts in this area (as in others) have been presented as necessary to rein in government spending and reduce the budget deficit. Quite apart from the fact that that logic has been convincingly discredited and ridiculed as the "austerity delusion" by Paul Krugman, it's interesting to draw a comparison to the US during the era of the Great Depression. As was underlined by a twentieth-century American history book I worked on recently, Roosevelt's administration not only saw the solution to the recession as a series of stimulus measures (the so-called New Deal, the polar opposite to austerity) but specifically committed to funding arts programmes at a time when the nation was very much on its uppers.

For instance, those employed by the Federal Writers' Project travelled the country compiling oral and local histories, while the Farm Security Administration commissioned photographers like Dorothea Lange to document the period, resulting in some stunning images. Meanwhile, the Federal Music Project championed blues music and performers, and initiated programmes of music education within schools. (I can't recall whether the FMP got a mention during Reginald D Hunter's Songs Of The South - but if not, it certainly should have.) It's sadly unthinkable that the Tories would ever show such support for the arts in the present climate.

Admittedly, I don't suppose many people would argue that support for the arts and for accessible and affordable higher education should be a priority at a time when record numbers of people are finding it impossible to feed themselves without assistance. (For a behind-the-scenes look at life at a food bank, Vice documentary Shy Bairns Get Nowt is highly recommended - powerful and emotive stuff.) Nevertheless, there's a bleak irony in the fact that the education sector in general is being both squeezed financially and yet also increasingly expected to pick up the pieces as the Tories decimate the welfare system - something likely to continue if they're returned to power.

(Thanks to Pete and Abbie for the Suzanne Moore and Barbara Ellen links.)

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