I read an article on Wed 18th in the Evening Standard where Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, talked at Davos of the “crisis of the middle class”. Exploring where current Brexit and populism-fueled politics were squeezing out the middle class. This generated three reactions for me – two relating to the arts and one to a cross-party government policy.
Whether truth of fiction, I was told about 10 years ago that there was effective cross-party agreement in a long-term strategy for holding power in the right place. First you give the maximum opportunities to those who already “have”. Make sure the gravy train is hot and rich as it travels along from Davos to Davos. Love the speeches of compassion made, and then pass the champers. Second you lower the overall provision of education to thinking people. You make sure basic numeracy and servitude lessons are protected, but reduce the amount of thinking, creative, debating, and global growth time that young people get. Lots of time on facebook is great, but keep young people away from thinking too hard about politics or things that may cause them to question the direction of travel. Generation by generation you get back to the good old masters and servants that make for good government. This was the underlying policy as described to me and, day by day I see it coming to fruition. So Ms Legarde is only reflecting to the Davos folk what they already know, and must be rather proud of – a successful crisis.
But sadly I am still a thinking person, a worrier about what feels right, and I am delighted to be surrounded by people who know so much more than me. My facebook friends talk eloquently and organize marches and political parties for freedoms. My theatergoing is to plays and creative events which are deep and rich and thoughtful. I live in an echo chamber of middle-class-ness. I received a good education with amazing opportunities (ok I missed most of them because I was in a darkened theatre doing lighting and stage management – but they were out there free for me to grab if I wanted).
So the first of my arts challenges: We, who have had the chances, have to find ways to make theatre which counters the non-thinking media perceptions of the world. We have to find ways to awaken the spirit and imaginations of those who are being brainwashed with mediocrity and being couch-potatoed to keep them from having a questioning spirit. We can’t do that by just making theatre as we have before, behind the hallowed walls which we are lucky enough to call our theatres. We have to find different ways. It is scary to realise (if you believe my first premise) that we are fighting against all the Davos crowd – corporations who want their serfs on low wages, and politicians who need us to vote as they want. That’s a big fight – but it feels as though it is one which is needed.
For me it is daunting. I’m not a young fighter. I don’t have wealth to make stuff happen. I don’t have influence. BUT I can make tiny interventions to get out of my bubble and reach out to pass on my spirit, my care for life and art, and to take time to champion others. The gods will determine generations from now whether my slightly tired butterfly wings flapping away helped to change the world, or even caused a draught – but I will keep flapping with a smile and a passion.
And the second arts challenge: If this policy is true then somehow we have to get the STEAM back into STEM – we have to cheer and champion the arts and everything about thinking with young people. It is the young people who will have to find a way of being multiculturally connected and globally engaged as the old white politicians deliver us Brexit and America First across all the old white media channels. It will be the young who can turn back the tide.
The arts, dance, music, conversation, storytelling, debate, creating joyful opportunities for self-expression, and using theatre tools for self confidence – all these things can start to turn the tide.
But the government through intent or negligence is doing everything it can to make this more difficult. From the BBC News online this morning 21st Jan “Nearby Alsager School is set to lose about £150,000 – 2.9% of its budget – and is looking at cutting some subjects. In a recent letter to parents, head teacher Richard Middlebrook warned the new formula could mean “the removal of all non-English Baccalaureate subjects from the curriculum”. This would mean subjects including art, music, drama and design and technology being axed. “The very future of our school and the quality of education your son or daughter will receive at Alsager is at stake”, he warned.”
Alongside the government cuts, we are battling the drug companies, the sugar coated drink companies, the bad diet junk food companies, and all those who want to see how much they can privitise and profit from education and health in their life time. It is quite a fight against some goliaths. But young people are fleet of foot, and very young people still have a belief that magic can happen. Theatre can help them retain belief – and wow their butterfly wings are stronger than mine.
Yesterday we ended an era across the world with the passing of power from POTUS to POTUS. This quote was attached to the pic I use for this article “It is necessary for these young people to succeed that we promote the arts.” from Turnaround Arts in the USA
Thank you to my friends in the bubble who make my life rich with magic and rubbed-off wisdom. Let’s see what we can all do to make a difference across the UK and across generations. Let’s heed Ms Legarde’s warning – but hear it in a different way. There is hope to grow the thinking global class of the 21st century – however hard the masters try to stop us.