Blog Post: futile fury at the arts cuts and what i thought next

It?s been a while since I have felt such impotent, infant-like rage. I sat listening to the Comprehensive Spending Review screaming pointless obscenities. I watched Alan Davey (Head of the Arts Council) being interviewed by the House of Commons Culture Committee and threw tantrums, shouting at the computer screen ?Stop accepting the premise of the question you cretin?. As if channelling C.J. Cregg was going to have any impact on an event that was long finished and of which I was watching a recording. And so it went on- Late Night Review and I was throwing things at the very expensive and still not paid off TV screen. Facebook, Twitter, a discussion event for the NSDF, when my Arts Council officer visited. On and on.

And beyond the cuts themselves I was angry at the people I thought were leading my industry for doing such a dreadful job. Not dreadful because they lost the funding review (that was inevitable) but dreadful because they couldn?t seem to articulate with any skill why they SHOULD have won it. I was angry at the endless bickering within the artistic world, with each and every line of defence against the cuts contested by different sections- like an arts re-run of the Labour Party in the 80?s. I was angry at the fact that no single line of defence seemed to hold for ten seconds before it was drowned out by new, noisier contestants.

Endless, pointless, often ill-informed, futile, childish anger. Irrelevant.

I?ve always been an ambitious man. Always thought I could make an impact. I?m a Thatcher child. 1978. Read a lot.

Alongside the huge, macro issues that these sweeping changes to our country have made me think of, there is the personal realisation. I?m a progressive theatre director, the Artistic Director of a new work company on the fringes, based in the North of England.

It had never occurred to me before that I was about as far removed from the discussions that matter as anyone was. I mean I know that has always been the case. I just never had cause to consider it as a conscious thought.

And that being a smart arse on Twitter, screaming at the television and so on were the acts of a man who knew he was irrelevant. Lashing out.

There are of course many avenues open to an engaged, motivated citizen who wants to make an impact, endeavour to make an improvement to society and I shall be pursuing the ones that seem appropriate. But that?s not why I?m writing.

As a result of all this I lost sight of- for the first time in over a decade- the worth, the point, the rationale behind being an artist. In all that had come before- the lack of money, my illness, the frustration at trying to get work, the warehouse shifts, the long days and endless travel, the mountain of rejection letters- it had never, not once, occurred to me that what I was doing was not an important part of society.

And all of a sudden there I was stumped.

?Make something people want to pay money to see,? he said.

And out of my mouth came? nothing. I was raged out. Explained out. Exhausted by it all. Forgotten was each and every reason for doing it, forgotten its value and worth. In the face of everything that had passed I felt utterly, completely irrelevant.

I have been so lucky, in the midst of all these announcements, to be in the middle of presenting a show. Each night of Anthology, I greet every member of the audience as they choose their artefact that decides their evening?s journey. Doing this, repeatedly, for hundreds of people I slowly realised that in one tantrum of three days I had lost sight of a certainty that had driven me for ten years- and helped me out of much worse situations than this one.

Here were people coming for story, for adventure, for experience, trying in their own way to make sense of the world, and using the things we had created to do that; to cry, smile, imagine and remember.

I was reminded of an event we did a couple of years ago for Theatre in the Mill, Bradford. The Village Fete. 12 hours of scratch programming on the stage surrounded by stalls run by and selling the goods of artists. It was provoked by the realisation that we were a community- the theatre and art makers of West Yorkshire- just like a village but spread out geographically. One of us was good at cake baking, another at making lap-top covers and so on and so on; together we had the makings of a pretty good village fete. I did a barbecue. People had a whale of a time. They met, discussed things, took strength and inspiration, shared audience and supporters, ate some burnt meat.

If the large-scale city strong institutions are to survive they will do so as wide open, collaborative buildings; the beating heart of a city?s theatre community. By being the village hall.

In a manner that homes the diverse creative processes not dilutes them.

Equally the alternative sector is going to have to look to centre with greater faith than has sometimes been shown to the institutions, appreciating there isn?t the resource to have competing organisations in the same city, only collaborating ones.

The potential for a richer artistic output as a result of necessity has started to excite me; as we all shelter from the storms in the same place- because that?s the only place left- what new conversations might happen, new exciting directions created by necessity, realised by determination.

There?s been a long running joke whilst we?ve been at the Liverpool Everyman that they are the Monolith and Slung Low the band of Anarchists. Anyone who knows either group of people and their endeavours will immediately understand the silliness of those titles. And yet the papers said it to be so. And I am sure (although we never used those terms) I encouraged them with my Lady and the Tramp style retelling of the collaboration.

The camps, the mentalities are there and if they remain I am certain that in the future both sides will sink. Fast. With little mourning from the public, who neither understand nor care about the semantics or organisational positioning. We will weather the immediate future as a community, a village self-supporting. Or we will not weather it.

I have made good copy talking in the past about the need for the progressive to work with the mainstream. I am absolutely certain that we are at a tipping point where soon such labels- however loosely held- are going to be utterly meaningless. There will only be what survived. If what looks at the moment like an inevitable stream of cuts becomes a reality then there will be nothing left but the absolutely determined, the absolutely relentless, the absolutely exciting, the absolutely open.

Now is the time for daring, for hoop shots and visionary leadership, for bloody mindedness and adventure. It is the time for those who can make miracles out of nothing, with sheer fury and energy. It is the time for cockroaches.

Limping along like victims will not endear us to a besieged public. In all the mess and shit that is to come it is our role to excite them, enrage them, play with and for them.

I do not believe that poverty makes better work. But I think that whatever we have left once our industry, along with plenty others, is finished being ideologically mugged and financially harangued is what we?ve got. And from that we must make everything. Better than we did before.

Because when they?ve finished cutting support to the young, the poor, the old and the ill; when they?ve finished giving what might have been all of ours to the chosen few; once they?ve got rid of the hand up and the stepping stones to a better life; all that might be left to many is the desire to go out of an evening, to a story, to an adventure, to an experience, to try in their own way to make sense of the world, and use the things we created to do that; to cry, laugh, imagine and remember.

And we should absolutely be ready for them when they do.

The feeling of fury is still very much present. It?s the feeling of ir
relevance that has gone away.


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