This time last year I was touring with The Alan Barnes Octet. We were touring A Requiem, a Jazz and Poetry collaboration which was written to commemorate and comment on a century of global conflict. Working with Alan and those superb musicians was a creative highlight of my life, a hugely enjoyable and rich experience and I look back with enormous gratitude at having had that opportunity. Two years prior we toured Fish Tales which celebrated the history, mythology and legacy of the Grimsby fishing industry. I never imagined that I would write about either war or fishing but part of the delight of creative life is to be surprised by what you can do.
Given the current context and the terrifying threat to the arts in the UK, presented by both Covid and a lack of support from the government, artists find themselves staring into an abyss and wondering what kind of a future there is for this essential part of human experience. Life without the arts can only be arid, desperate and sad. To be advised to ‘get a better job’ in the face of rising unemployment, shrinking opportunity and a UK isolated from the world is as offensive as it is unrealistic.
There is a terrible imbalance in the creative arts nationally, one that was longstanding before the current crisis. Access to the arts is increasingly limited to the middle classes, those with means and connections. The direction of travel over the past decade has been away from arts for all towards limited enclaves where not enough varied voices are heard. The education system has played a significant part in this with arts being constantly demeaned and undervalued while the STEM agenda has been relentlessly peddled, pushing children and young people in directions where they are not necessarily going to find fulfillment. It’s not enough to have arts as an afterthought or extra-curricular. A decent education should encompass and value the arts as equal to science and mathematics.
Before the pandemic, work was underway to address cultural imbalances, including leading work from the Arts Council and their publication of the Creative case for Diversity: https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/diversity/creative-case-diversity
It would be a travesty to not centralise diversity as part of arts recovery in the UK post pandemic.
This year’s theme for National Poetry Day is Vision. Artists have vision, they have sight, insight and intuition in abundance. But sometimes it is hard to see, especially in times of great stress and duress. Vision is hard to find if you’re worried about losing your livelihood, feeding your family, keeping your home. However, it is important to not let go of artistic vision. Perhaps now more than at any other time in recent history we need vision and visionaries, artists who will sing, write, paint and create a future that could just be better than the past we have had to let go. I believe that each one of us is an artist and that with our creativity we can envision and create a better world with much broader and wider representation, particularly in terms of social class. I would love to be proved right.
A Requiem on CD is available here: http://www.woodvillerecords.com/Requiem.htm
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