Cultural Continuation

I've written several times before about how I believe the arts can be of benefit; not only to the individual in terms of health and experience, but also to society and the wider economy.

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Hull launches the City of Culture, promising at least one cultural event each day during 2017. Predictions are for a 9:1 return for the local economy.

This interesting article raises some relevant questions for how the cultural sector can continue to thrive, how the arts industries can state their importance and relevance for the economy, and the importance of not dismissing creative subjects as 'soft' or 'lifestyle' choices.

"The contemporary demand for new plays... is set against England's post-war, post-imperial identity crisis, and as received idea of homogeneous English nationhood has dissolved into a consciousness of different constituencies and interests, so many different (often minority) voices have finally been allowed on stage to challenge dominant narratives and traditional styles. In the last forty years a slow acceptance of multiculturalism and colonial decline, the self-examination caused by England's relation to European integration and global economies, and the end of the Cold War have fostered desire to and receptivity to an unprecedented richness of international experience and influence, particularly in theatre."
LUCKHURST, 2006, P.202-203.

The quote above comes from a book I have been reading, and this, along with the article from the Guardian, has hit the nail on the head in describing my concern for the coming years:

The arts are seen as 'soft' subjects, and the more that this is reinforced, the easier it will become to cut courses, dismiss fears and slash funding.
This, I fear, will lead to the industry diverging; one side becoming insular and as elitist as the detractors claim it already is, with already expensive ticket prices inflating well out of the reach of all but the most wealthy, and this new work will cater to those audience members, becoming still less relevant to the majority.
The other side will struggle to appeal to a wider audience; community theatres, fringe venues, small touring companies, etc. But, in the face of dwindling budgets, smaller theatres will close, companies will disband, the quality of the work will suffer and, inevitably, new audiences will be put off from attending, leading once more to the acceptance of the idea that the arts are only for the rich.

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The other worry I have is summed up by the above quote. England is, indeed, going through an identity crisis. It is widely accepted that the Brexit vote highlighted deep inequalities and abiding concerns, and that many of those who voted to Leave, did so out of a desire to return to a rose-tinted ideal of yesteryear. And it's not only in the UK; across Europe far-right parties are on the rise, in the USA and Australia too, nationalism is experiencing a resurgence.
If, as the quote suggests, the success of theatre over the past fifty years has been a reflection of the struggle towards national self-acceptance, the embrace of multiculturalism and the experience of a pluralistic society, what does this increasing turn towards the metaphorical slamming of doors herald for the future of the arts?
Will the cultural community fight back? Pushing ever more to expose more people to all aspects of the arts, and refusing to quieten their voices against a rising tide of isolationism. Or will they, as happened in Soviet Russia, conform to the status-quo, supporting popular (or populist) opinion, with only a few dissenting artists willing to take the risk on challenging, political or socially relevant work?

These are extremes, yes, and I honestly doubt either scenario will manifest in its entirety. But I still worry.

Luckhurst, M. Dramaturgy: A Revolution in Theatre. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press


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