Creative approaches are the key to delivering local and regional policy agendas, says Jean Laurie, and the arts should be at their core.
The arts enable people to change places by physically stamping their identity on the environment and by allowing one person to feel the experiences and emotions of another. This empathy is essential for a cohesive society. The arts encourage questioning and the imagination of possible futures; and self-expression, an essential characteristic of the active citizen. Cultural change cannot be imposed externally but grows from within the communities.
It?s good the government retained the Department for Culture Media and Sport, and its agenda of inclusivity and creativity. But there?s widespread dismay at the proposed dismantling of the Regional Arts Boards, removing the last vestiges of democratic accountability, to be replaced by centrally-controlled regional government offices. We need devolved, simplified funding at local level and coherent regional policies, not a London-centric overview.
Easily accessible funds like ?Awards for All? enable communities to develop their own projects. Over-subscription to all arts funding shows we are not meeting need. Let?s raise cultural spending to the level of other European countries.
Many councils faced with increasing responsibilities and static funding have no option but to cut discretionary services ? the very services contributing most to their aspirations for access, regeneration and partnership-working. If a power of well-being is provided for councils, let?s have sustained core funding to make it happen.
A Labour government oversaw the birth of the Swinging Sixties. That generation and new non-voting electors, might just engage with a government creating an optimistic culture that is unpredictable, exciting, celebratory ? fun. Come on Tony, can?t you think of anything more interesting than the Queen?s Jubilee? More public holidays would help.
Cultural industries employ 1.4m people contributing £60 billion a year to the economy. But many cultural workers Arts are excluded from accessing small business grants or start-up funds because they operate as sole traders. The Small Business Service needs to understand how the cultural sector works and offer joined-up help tailored to fit need, rather than expecting one of the fastest growing sectors in the economy to fit into outdated ideas of what is a real business.
Some companies harness the talent of new graduate designers, such a Marks & Spencer and Pilkington Glass. Tax breaks for companies to sponsor placements would raise design standards across industry.
The cultural sector excels at bringing redundant buildings back into use. In Europe there is much more emphasis on re-animating spaces and mixed use, rather than a bricks and mortar approach, and less bureaucratic suspicion. Too often, the artists who breathe new life into a locality are excluded when the contemporary gallery in the ex-factory joins the international luvvies circuit and house prices soar because it?s the happening place to live. If local people are excluded, which community is benefiting from regeneration?
In England regenerated areas have a sameness. Standardised housing and offices balance the books but don?t reflect a neighbourhood?s history. Include the arts at the beginning of the planning process. Celebrate place and heritage. Make attention to design and integration of buildings, arts, landscape and people a pre-requisite of public funding.
Build a percentage for art into new developments. It doesn?t have to be spent on public art. Funding raised on every new call centre could be used to develop creative ideas for the Internet, for example.
In 1995, MORI found that 50% of secondary school students had never seen a play, 80% had not visited a museum, gallery or concert; only 10% had seen a dance or opera performance. Education is more than the opportunity to pass exams. Cultural participation is the right of every child (according to United Nations). The arts create a pride in one?s culture which is not insular, but gives people the confidence to look outwards and appreciate other cultures. Please, please ,a radical overhaul of the national curriculum to release the talents of every child.
Creative activity increases mental wellbeing for all ages and keeps older people active longer. One in seven older people suffer from depression. Loneliness is a key factor in people moving into residential care. The National Strategic Framework for Older People increases funding for intermediate care; it shouldn?t only be about meals on wheels and help with bathing. It?s about mental health too.
Enabling people to look after themselves mentally and physically means delivering health promotion in imaginative ways. The original Healthy Living Centres were led by artists promoting health in quality buildings. Too many new schemes are now rooted in the medical model. There needs to be a synergy between nutritionists telling poor people what to eat and commissioning every TV chef to come up with a healthy low cost recipe prepared in the time it takes to heat a pizza, and printed on the back of bus tickets.
We?ll know we?ve got the balance right when doctors prescribe as many activity and exercise prescriptions as they do anti-depressants.
The Big Government Agenda is as heavy as suet pudding. Let?s add the zest of arts and the yeast of creative solutions to make it less worthy, more fun!
Jean Laurie is Arts Development Officer at Lancaster City Council. This article represents the author?s views and not necessarily those of the Lancaster City Council. It first appeared in Briefing magazine, LGIU e: firstname.lastname@example.org