A cheer on all your Houses

Friends will know I am a great champion of the What Next movement and meetings. I aim to go to as many of the fortnightly intense 1hr conferences on zoom as I can. So much is discussed with an audience/participation of 100-200 amazing champions and leaders in the Arts and Culture.   I quote the standard invitation paragraph here in case you want to sign up:

What Next? UK is open to anyone passionate about shaping and debating the future of the arts and culture. We welcome new colleagues at every stage of their career, from across the whole of the UK and from all professions, volunteer positions or communities. Please spread the word and invite your colleagues to join us. For security and GDPR reasons we need them to personally sign-up to this mailing list, which should only take a few seconds: https://www.whatnextculture.co.uk/mailing-list/

This morning What Next paired with the Campaign for the Arts and the London South Bank Centre to bring us an Election Hustings on Arts and Culture. There were leading figures from the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, Conservative Party, Green Party, Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the SDLP.  Sadly the SNP spokesperson was poorly and didn’t join.  This 75 minute husting was led by Dame Deborah Bull who kept everyone most definitely on time and on point.

Most What Next meetings are held under Chatham House rules which is a way of saying I can’t report what anyone said specifically. It has a level of confidentiality to ensure no one gets quoted out of context. In this case the rule was relaxed and the audience of over 500 people online are permitted to talk about the event and I am sure some press will be writing about it.

I want to forget party lines here and just list some of the great ideas which were shared with us of how to make working in and participating in the arts better for us all, across the UK. It is tempting to wonder why the party in power for the last 14 years has not implemented/embraced so much of this – but let us hope whichever party takes the lead in Parliament from July 5th will grab hold of many of these initiatives. We have so much to learn from the successes of other Countries including Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  Here’s hoping for a strategy which is lain out with short-term wins and middle-term actions.

What follows in my words are the themes I heard coming through and any Stats quoted were as I heard them without sources added (E&OE)

  • We need equality of importance in schools for all subjects including/especially the Arts.
  • Every child should have a chance for a career in the cultural sector and careers training should embrace this.
  • Arts Councils should be an arms-length critical friend of the government – a vocal advocate for the arts without influence/interference from government.
  • Invest in Local Government back to pre-2010 levels.
  • Celebrate the knowledge that £1 locally spent on an arts organisation can generate £4 back into the local economy.
  • Support Local Authorities with multi-year funding so they can plan going forward.
  • See what is happening with Ireland’s Artist Basic Income scheme and roll it out (at least trial it) in the UK.
  • Make touring Europe easier especially helping the freelance community.
  • Grow Apprenticeship schemes to help develop arts workers and cultural employees.
  • Implement all of the Equality Act and reverse disability funding cuts so that access to the arts as employee, worker, participant and audience is greatly improved (23% of the UK population is disabled, and 19% of the poorest households have no internet).
  • Put creativity at the heart of education – mindful that everyone needs to express ideas in their lives, and build confidence – the arts is a tool for this.
  • Reverse/remove University course fees and stop undermining creative courses at University.
  • Find ways to increase play in early years and get rid of things like homework for 7yr olds – look at Scandinavian models. 
  • As one person reflected Why is it that every MP photo opportunity in a school has the visitor in the art room or in a creative area when those same MPs are demonising/cutting the arts and creativity.
  • In early years the first 1000 days of life is where the child is shaped – give them access to all creative arts and help them find one which will give them joy throughout their life.
  • Use the arts to create work /films which paint an optimistic future if we change our relationship with the planet to complement our brilliant disaster movies.
  • Celebrate the BBC and many other organisations which are the lifeblood for freelancers
  • Make freelancers tax and rights clearer and fairer – and have the freelance voice represented in/around government
  • The arts can and does cut across divided communities – celebrate and fund this work because it is about social cohesion and acceptance.
  • Alongside arts for all young people, we must tackle poverty (29% of children in poverty in certain areas).
  • Raise arts spending per capita because it can do so much good as shown above – certain areas is it less than half the spend in other areas of the UK per head.
  • Use the arts to sell the country and all that is best in the UK – bringing external investment into the sector and exporting our talent to the international arts community.
  • In all government everyone to realise that the Arts is a must have not an add on.
  • Don’t put the arts in a silo – encourage cross department working with health and wellbeing, education and so many other areas of our lives and government.
  • Rejoin Creative Europe and find other ways to reverse the damage of Brexit.

It was great to hear so many policy ideas being delivered clearly and in a brief focussed manner. The challenge from the organisers was not to look back at failed policies of the past but to look forward to what each party would bring to the country on July 5th and beyond.

I believe that most of those on the Hustings really care and really want new ideas to take root with a new Parliamentary term going forward.  I know that, although not present, the SNP is working on a number of these initiatives in Scotland. It was a shame that the audience did not hear this today.

My thanks to What Next and Campaign for the Arts for bringing these folk together and, whoever Dear Reader you vote for on July 4th , I hope that the resulting Ministers in charge of our Arts Culture and Heritage, Education and Health, will be bringing new ideas forward and not more of the same. 

So much of what needs to be done is about embracing the arts as essential to the fabric of our society and a fantastic tool for improving the wellbeing of everyone in the land. Investment is necessary, but a joined up attitude of mind is essential first. The arts can save lives, make money, give joy, help communities to heal, make inspiring confident young people, and deliver fantastic entertainment.   I hope each Party will do its bit and work together – cross-party unity in this would be amazing.

Now to fill in my Postal Voting form

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