Cutting Funds for the Arts / by Jeannine Cook

Government and other bodies turn to cutting funds for the arts again and again. It is an almost monotonous - but oh so sad - "official announcement".  I was reminded forcibly of this as I read headlines this week in the Spanish press about more cuts in the arts budgets, and at the same time, that Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, is considering closing its Visual Arts Department.  Just two small examples of this continual drumbeat of cuts to lessen any country's chances of a cultured, civilised society within its borders and beyond.

The powers that be find it easy to forget that the arts get people involved in science, mathematics, geometry, history, language, social sciences in general, and on and on. You find this out in spite of yourself any time you engage in art-making or art viewing, whether you conscientiously realise it or not.  Everyone in power mouths platitudes about wanting their country's inhabitants to be better educated, to be able better to face a far more complicated future in the ever-expanding global marketplace.  Yet the optics on how better to ensure a suitable education to achieve well-rounded, versatile and competent human beings seem to become narrower and more impoverished in so many instances.  The image below, courtesy of the Guardian newpaper in the UK, says it well.

Artists Mark Wallinger, left, David Shrigley and Jeremy Deller, right, lobby cent cuts in arts funding, in London, September 2010. Photograph: Alastair Grant / AP

Artists Mark Wallinger, left, David Shrigley and Jeremy Deller, right, lobby cent cuts in arts funding, in London, September 2010. Photograph: Alastair Grant / AP

I could not help thinking about how I would cope in life if I had not had the good fortune to be introduced, as eary as possible, to the arts.  In East Africa, museums, concert halls, and art galleries were virtually non-existent when I was growing up, but that did not prevent my being taken to the wonderful top art and natural history museums when I first went to Europe at the age of five, as well as to ballet performances, concerts.  Soon afterwards, theatre-going was also introduced, while my reading included wonderful illustrated books, full of beauty. Had I not started out in this way, I would now find daily life far more limited, more complicated.  Just a small example: in the process of redoing a bathroom, the multiple choices one has to make of tiles, faucets, styles of hand basin, finish of towel rails, etc., would be so much harder had I not been allowed to develop an innate sense of style and design.  My own style and design, of course, for each of us is an individual: nonetheless, an ensemble which ultimately produces an effect, a statement, a type of bathroom. The interesting thing is that other people then also can relate to those choices made, because, when said and done, there is an underlying tissue of culture uniting us, a tissue that can be fostered and improved when people can have access to examples of the different arts.

Just to carry my example a little further about the bathroom:  if people have been given a decent grounding in the arts during their education, they then have far more confidence in themselves when it comes to making esthetic choices.  When decorating their home, for instance, it would not be so necessary to call on the services of interior decorators (not that I have anything against interior decorators for they perform valuable services), simply to feel comfortable about the choices they are making.

Ultimately, having access to education about and exposure to the arts in general empowers people.  At a time when individuals need all the tools and knowlege we can muster to push back against abusive power structures, it seems almost machaevellian to cut funding for the arts.