Nils Leonard on the madness of arts education cuts: how can you learn what can’t be taught?
A view from Nils Leonard

The madness of arts education cuts: how can you learn what can’t be taught?

Government plans to halve higher-education funding for arts subjects will cause incalculable harm to the creative industries, one of the UK's most important growth sectors. It's time to mobilise and fight back, the co-founder of Uncommon Creative Studio says.

Churchill never said it, you know. The rumour goes that when asked whether to cut arts funding during the war to support the effort, our legendary cigar chomper simply replied: “Then what are we fighting for?”

According to historians, it turns out he never actually said it, but who cares?

In the argument for creativity, we can be a little creative, and understand (a little like the chubby warrior himself) that a great story beats the truth every time.

Either way the statement is a brutal beauty, an almost perfect articulation of art and creativity’s value as something central. Not fragile. Not some doily for the table of the soppy, gentle few, but core. Necessary.

As the government intends to cut arts funding by half, it is tempting to look for arguments to justify the value and fragility of the UK’s creative future, but maybe we should think about why the cuts are being made a little more.

Instead of viewing this as some easy, sloppy decision made amid the catcalls of Parliament, let’s see this as it is. More than just an attack on the potential of a new generation of thinkers and voices, it is a culling of the talent that delivers the UK’s world-leading arts courses.

These cuts won’t just result in fewer creative careers, they will remove those that can teach them.

To silence a teacher is to smother hope. How can you learn what can’t be taught?

The UK music industry contributed £5.2bn to the UK economy in 2018. According to The Musicians Union, these cuts will be catastrophic for music provision at a higher-education level.

What this really means is that if you don’t have some money behind you, it’s going to be almost impossible to break through or to even see that breaking through might be a possibility.

We aren’t removing grades. We are removing the crack in the door. The suggestion that there might be more out there. The chance.

It’s tempting to see art as fragile. Creativity as niche. But, speaking of 2018, the creative industry sector in that year was growing five times faster than the national economy, DCMS figures show.

Covid aside, the creative sector is now worth more than £111.7bn in gross value to the UK, more than the automotive, life sciences, aerospace, oil and gas industries combined.

Creativity isn’t fringe, it’s our tea, our steel, our oil. Creativity is the UK’s most precious natural resource, and the only one we aren’t mining.

So why wouldn’t you fuel and support what you knew to be the UK’s fastest-growing and successful industry?

Given the couple of years we’ve had, why wouldn’t you bet your future on something with a record of success?

The answer might be because chopping the legs off the arts also serves another purpose.

The artists and creatives of any great culture have always been the ones to call bullshit.

No matter their numeric brilliance, a mathematician isn’t going to challenge the double standards in office.

No genius in a lab coat is going to pen a lyric, heard by millions, that says what no-one in parliament would dare say.

Art is powerful.

The excellent Saul Williams said: "Legislation won’t necessarily start a riot. But the right song can make someone pick up a chair."

Artists are trouble. Creatives start fires. Governments don’t like this. Governments with things to hide like it even less.

So in a time of trouble, they are pulling the pictures off the walls.

To make their voices louder, they are silencing the poets. 

Just as the crowd is coming together, they are shutting the music off.

In a time of defaced murals, they are tying the hands of the talented. 

And in a time of corruption, they are smashing mirrors.

Art can paint the truth.

Music can speak to change.

The poets can make us feel it.

The painters can make it permanent.

Whatever our motivation to protect the creative future of the UK, we must. This fight will take all of us.

Like Stormzy said: “You’re a prick by yourself, go and group up.”

If you haven’t already, sign this:

https://www.campaignforthearts.org/petitions/stop-the-50-percent-funding-cut-to-arts-subjects-in-higher-education/

Nils Leonard is co-founder of Uncommon Creative Studio

Topics