Today’s guest post is from a small charity which I support called Arts Emergency. It was set up by the comedian Josie Long, and fundraiser Neil Griffiths, and I’m thrilled to give them the opportunity to explain a bit more about what they do and why. As well as all the info that’s on the website, you can keep up to date with their work on Twitter
The Arts Emergency: a generation of young people are being incentivised to disengage from humanistic study. Don’t stand for it.
It seems education as a whole is increasingly building for short term profit, and the skills we now champion are those that aid this through business and industry.
As we now know, in reality this has meant that academic disciplines caricatured as having no clear economic utility have had their public funding withdrawn entirely.
Yet those very subjects – the arts, the humanities and the social sciences in particular, are unquestionably vital to a diverse economy (the creative industries alone constitute nearly 10% of all enterprises in the UK, not to mention the fact more jobs than ever before require degree level qualifications to enter). Even seen through the relatively narrow ideological prism of those depreciating these skills and curiosities (of vital human importance) – it seems at best a counterintuitive act, at worst an act of deliberately gross cultural and social vandalism. Remember too we are suffering cuts in schools for music, and the closure of public libraries.
Beyond their superficial economic value the arts, the humanities and the social sciences maintain and fuel our cultural lives (what use is a world without imagination or innovation where we collectively lack the ability to understand other sensibilities and opinions?).
Above all these skillsand studies are vital for a healthy functioning democracy. Why? Because they foster critical autonomy, these subjects teach us not facts and certainties, but how to question better. Without this we descend into democracy as consumerism, and engaged citizens become entitled consumers, swayed by the loudest voice not the soundest argument. The detrimental knock-on effect of reduced engagement with arts subjects in education is subtle, profound and broad.
The work done at university in the arts and humanities doesn’t produce saleable material goods, or value added services, it doesn’t generate vast profits like a company – it produces above all meanings, interpretations, theories, propositions, ideas and innovation… products that NEVER date, invaluable skills that can be put to myriad different uses personally, culturally, economically and politically.
The end of public funding for the teaching of Arts and Humanities subjects, and the passing on of the those costs directly to students, will more than likely impact most on those from poorer backgrounds (according to some early research, we’ve seen a 40% drop in students from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds who say they are definitely going to university in the wake of the Browne report).
Poor advice, negativity from the peer community, perceived elitism of universities, lack of qualifications and fear of debt already hold back too many students from less wealthy backgrounds. It is our concern that the latest raft of fee rises and structural changes will only exacerbate these existing inequalities of access.
Without the right support and inspiration, many that do go to university will, like I did even before this latest rise, feel bound by cultural pressure and financial obligation, to opt for courses whichappear to have more practical, short-term benefits – or if you will, an obviousreturn on investment. This of course is inevitable if the message from the very top of government and industry is unequivocally that education is a means to an end.
A very specific group of UK citizens are facing mounting pressure to disengage from the study of the human condition and this surely cannot be a good thing.
Such is the speed of change and severity of situation, it is no longer enough to merely lament these changes, or campaign to prevent the near inevitable closure of BA departments as universities nationwide opt to become leaner and meaner in order to survive in a market economy.
If we don’t actively help students from poorer backgrounds take the steps to study Arts and Humanities courses now,the university sector will become, even more than it is, a kind of higher, private school system, and one not even supported by the limited philanthropic, alumni culture which underpins the privatised H.E. systems of some other countries. Consider a certain ‘New College of the Humanities’ for a glimpse of a future system populated by education consumers and entrepreneurial academics, in which those who believe they can afford it will have complete freedom to study what they like, and those who can’t will more than likely pick at the narrow vocational scraps.
Those of us who have been supported and sustained in our own lives by very different educational and cultural values, should not be able to live with such an arrangement.
The Arts Emergency Service is a year old now, our hopes to build an alternative “old boy’s network” of like minds have become a reality and we already have 60 talented creative volunteers from across the arts and academic world ready to support the next generation.
There are thousands of people following us online, and hundreds more on our mailing list. If you want to support us the best way is to donate.
It is unquestionably a mammoth task, especially during a global depression so we would welcome those as passionate and concerned as we are to get in touch and get involved in the campaign planning and fundraising projects. Also, please tell people you know what is going on, word of mouth is the best way to build a campaign and what better means of communication exists?
Our 60 volunteers are working across 7 schools in Hackney to offer contacts, encouragement and support to students there. This is a pilot programme and we hope to offer such services nationwide as soon as we can, do get behind us!
We must harness the passion and talent of all those who benefited from an arts education previously in order to re-articulate the importance of the arts and humanities to a wider audience of potential students, not emphasising the obvious fact that these subjects underpin some of the most dynamic engines of the UK economy but to beat the drum for a completely different value system, one that comprises the beating heart of a vibrant and progressive society, a society that treats the human being as an end rather than a means.
Thanks for reading.
Neil Griffiths & Josie Long (co-founders of The Arts Emergency Service)