With tuition fees on the rise, it’s about to get a lot more expensive to train as an actor. With the industry still suffering from recession, it’s hard to find paid entry-level employment. Real life financial implications are big news on the arts scene at the moment, with ACE detailing its severe cut backs last week, and some companies struggling to keep afloat. With all this in mind, I went along to the Young Vic theatre last week to discuss ‘What next?’
The event was attended by a number of industry professionals from across the country and across the art form. They were gathered to address the immediate and distant future of theatre, and to attempt to provoke a discussion, and perhaps a change. David Lan set the tone by stating “I do not feel that the Young Vic is more important than the NHS”. It was apparent that this event was not designed to be a discussion of how the government was wrong or how the arts shouldn’t be cut, and how unfair it all was. More important was a discussion about the future – about what it is we’re fighting for and what’s worth preserving.
The real life effects of art were demonstrated by a range of speakers – from the elders of Sadler’s Wells dance troupe to a young member of SE1. Timi Jogunosimi-Raji spoke about the real “sense of home” he has found at the Southbank Centre, and Lucy Perman spoke of her work “helping to pick up the pieces” with Clean Break. The message was clear – here are lives that have been changed for the better by artistic organisations. Had they not been available, it would have been a different story. Elizabeth Philips spoke of her experiences leading a specialist performing arts college: “By taking time from core subjects and giving it to the arts, our GCSE results rocketed – we improved on what the government wanted.” She concluded, practically, “With this government, you have to show them positive outcomes.”
This message was repeated throughout the morning, and has stuck with me throughout the ACE funding announcements – with any other business, money will exchange hands in return for goods. I don’t see why the arts should be any different, even in the non-commercial arena. Artists must express their worth – they must be attempting to provoke discussion and transformation, rather than seeing funding as some sort of philanthropic gift. The focus should be on the impact of art on society rather than the art itself.
Richard Eyre spoke rousingly of the struggle of art to give life purpose – to provide a commentary on being alive. His assessment of ‘what next’ was almost a call to arms: “Cultural life is going to be eroded by a perfect storm… Little by little, the already large gap between those for whom the arts are part of life and those who feel excluded from them will widen. We ask ‘What’s next?’ and I reply, ‘Cultural apartheid’.”
The pervading concern seemed to be that the transformative power of art will be relegated to a side dish on a main course of commercial work. These gathered artists seemed more concerned with the legacy of their work and the future potential of the art to transform and inspire, rather than their own personal careers. They were not moaning; they were not claiming it was all unfair, and they were certainly not claiming to be more important than the NHS. Instead, they devoted themselves to maintaining our golden age, an inspirational legacy. If that fails, we are, in Richard Eyre’s words, “condemning future generations to a life a little less.”
What Next was a discussion at the Young Vic Theatre. The whole event was live streamed and can still be watched and discussed online here.