David Bowie, Cuts, and Why ‘Culture’ is becoming Another Planet

Bowie's mere presence personified the power and relevance of a cultured society that appreciated and allowed him to emerge and for the rest of us to reach for those rewarding stars as well

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If ever there was a moment when a cuts-obsessed philistine Government needed a kick in the nads from a well-aimed, gaily painted Red Shoe – then this is it.

All they have to do is look at the internet meltdown following the sad death of David Bowie.

Putting aside the millions of memes, which are a quite understandable and normal feature of the internet in mourning, and turning a deaf ear to those cut ‘n’ paste national broadcasters (like expert Jeremy Vine – who buttock-clenchingly shoehorn their personal connections in to every word) the message here is quite simple… and it’s not just the outstanding music.

Of course we expect an instant soundbite from a Prime Minister but he, his ‘Culture’ Minister and his friends need to go back and take a long hard look at how a musician/actor/artist/writer affected and changed millions of lives, for the better. They were enhanced, many were given a voice, many went on to better things, many had their eyes opened and their prejudices challenged. People danced and sang and dressed up. People imitated, innovated and improved. People experienced Joy and Pleasure and discovered that the fringe can be quite an interesting and rewarding place. All ages and backgrounds, creeds and colours were affected. Access for All.tiny theatre

All of this is Good. None of it is Bad. There is a lot of love. Nobody went to war. Nobody gets hurt. This is what having a society that values its Arts and Culture means.

But for years now, that crucial idea has been under threat and battling for air.

The axe has fallen non-stop on arts funding, theatre grants, music venues and arts tuition to name but a few, as local authorities across the country have struggled with up to 40% cuts in their funding and loss of staff. Some authorities have cut nearly the whole of their arts funding whilst desperately searching for an answer. Many theatres have seen their grants evaporate, music venues close in the face of property developers, school arts classes and visits chopped.

Nearly a year ago The Warwick Commission published its phenomenal ‘Report on The Future of Cultural Value in Britain’. If you believe in the power of arts and culture it made truly disturbing reading.

Bowie apparently did ‘imaginative music and movement’ in his junior school, played a mean recorder, and then did art and design at his technical college. This Government may not even remember those technical colleges but they should know that investment in education in arts and culture has been in total freefall for years. A snapshot tells us that after school drama and dance classes have halved, art classes dropped by 33% and higher education craft courses by 46%. Anyone remember school music tuition?

The Culture Minister should go back and re-read this dire warning by the Commission:

The Government needs to guarantee equal access for everyone to a rich cultural education and the opportunity to live a creative life’…not to do so…. ‘is bad for business and bad for society…the DfE and Ofsted must ensure that all children up to the age of 16 receive a cultural education in order to ensure their life-long engagement and enjoyment as audiences and creators.

Of course, they will say ‘There is no political traction in the ‘arts and culture’. It makes more political sense to have the BBC in your cross-hair sights’. Meanwhile, the Warwick Commission report has disappeared without trace.

Bowie was a hugely talented and important maverick. A brilliant star who shone brightly for many decades. Yes, not everyone can do that, but his mere presence personified the power and relevance of a cultured society that appreciated and allowed him to emerge and for the rest of us to reach for those rewarding stars as well. The short-sighted threat to that fundamental cultural accessis not only mistaken but also demonstrates a philistine ignorance and total misunderstanding of the huge rewards it can bring.

You’ve left us a lot of good stuff Mr Jones, Thank You and sleep easy.

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