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Britain's cultural capital is immense. It's something that a lot of people don't often seem to realise, thinking of "culture" as maybe things like opera and art galleries, things that don't necessarily have widespread appeal. But culture also includes things like our popstars, TV shows and movie industries; the latter of which, we are already being warned, may suffer in the years to come.
There are lobbying groups set up to campaign for increased funding for the arts and culture, and there are groups set up to oppose this (which personally baffles me, but each to their own), but one thing that can't be denied is that this tiny country has disproportionately influenced world culture. Our exports travel across the world, and our homegrown cultural institutions (art galleries, festivals, concert halls, theatres, etc) attract millions of visitors each year.
The European Capital of Culture programme, and the newer UK City of Culture, have proven that engagement with the arts can improve a local community in ways that can't always be measured in direct monetary terms; access to the countries world-leading arts and cultural programmes can improve mental and physical health, lead to increased engagement with the community and therefore help with cohesion, pride, self-esteem and outlook.
Think about a festival, or a concert, or a gig that you've been to, and think about that euphoria you felt at the time; or remember a play, musical, film or piece of art that you saw that made you forget where you were and just sink into the moment; a song that takes you back to a time and place; that time your kids had their face painted at a local kids party in the park and ran around pretending to be tigers; the moment you found yourself caught up in a flashmob; the joy of watching your children singing in a school show... What would life be like without these experiences?
In these turbulent times, we need the arts more than ever. Arts and Culture help us see outside of ourselves, to experience things that we wouldn't otherwise. The arts help us see what it is to be human, in all of our vibrant, diverse beauty. We simply can't afford to lose any more of what makes us ourselves and what makes us strong; unique in the world.
Soft power has more power than we realise. And we will only realise it when we have none.