Thursday, 1 October 2015

The value of being a tree

Two sets of figures for you:

Total turnover in arts and culture in the UK in 2013 was £15.1 billion, with gross value added totally £7.7billion[1]

For every £1 of public funding paid to Arts Council England, the culture sector pays back £5 in tax contributions. £1 paid in by the government, £5 return.  Pretty good.

Why am I telling you this?  Well for a start, I think it’s quite interesting.  That’s a helluva lotta money!  It shows what a buoyant, successful and profitable industry the arts are.  The UK’s thriving tourism industry accounts for a huge 9% of the UK’s GDP[2] with 24% of visitors in London going to the theatre/ballet/opera[3].

And yet, as ever, the arts are under threat.  Funding from the government to a myriad of organisations is always in danger of being reduced or removed completely and drama and dance GCSEs are at risk being of side lined as they aren’t considered academic enough and this concerns me.  I understand that the UK is not in the best financial situation it’s ever been in, but reducing funding to the arts is incredibly short sighted.

One of the reasons the tourists go to the theatre or ballet or opera is because of the guaranteed high quality of the work.  British actors are thought to be the best trained in the world[4] and are currently the toast of Hollywood – the 2015 Oscars were testament to this.  And this didn’t happen by accident.  This happened because of investment; in drama in schools, in The Arts Council, in funding and bursaries, in opportunities for people of all backgrounds to pursue a career in the arts and in local community groups helping young people keep on track.  If we lose this investment now, then the UK will not be the cultural leader it currently is and this will have a considerable and long lasting effect. Think back three years to the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony – without the investment in the arts, would it have been the breath-taking spectacle it was?  That alone proved to the world how innovative, original and current the UK is in the performing arts.

However, a rich, successful arts scene has a lot more to it than the money  it brings the UK’s coffers.   It’s the value it gives people.  In defence of the arts, people often point out the money (as I began with) but that’s such a hollow assessment.  I would argue that drama in schools is essential in the learning of life skills: team work, confidence in speaking in front of a group, listening, dealing with egos, working to deadlines… The list is long.  Not everyone who is forced to do drama at school is going to enjoy it but then I didn’t enjoy science and I still learnt what photosynthesis is.  These kinds of life skills aren’t things you can necessarily examine but does that make them less worthwhile?  I certainly don’t think so.

And of course it’s not only the doing that matters – not everyone has regular access to theatre or cinema, but most people own a TV and enjoy watching it and this enjoyment is enormously important. 

So when you next hear about cuts to arts, try not to think of a bunch of people all dressed in black growing from an acorn to a tree but instead think of Granny enjoying Downton on a Sunday night.  Think of your friend leading a team & kicking-ass in board meetings.  Think of the hundreds, thousands of people at the end credits of a film whose livelihood is at stake.  Think of the fun your niece had in the school nativity play.  And think of your favourite actor and how once, at school, they probably did a little play about how drugs are really bad, because that’s what investment in the arts really is.

Twitter: @mirandacolmans


  1. Great job, Miranda. Beyond the areas that you mention, I think there is something beyond this that the arts allow us to look beyond the physical and the fiscal and see the world with the imagination and empathy that allows to approach the challenges of work and everyday life.

  2. Couldn't have put it better myself Jeremy! Totally agree