Cuts to the arts… again

17th April 2024

Earlier this month, it was announced by Education Secretary Gillian Keegan that there will be cuts to funding for performing and creative arts courses at English universities in 2025.

It was only a few weeks ago that Lucy Frazer, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, was backing the arts saying: “The creative industries – including theatre – they are part of a really important ecosystem”. She also said the government cutting arts locally was “disappointing”.

Now someone in her team – Gillian Keegan – has decided to cut arts funding for young people. How is Frazer allowing this to happen? Why is she not fighting for the arts?

The government says that it is increasing funding for the “strategically important” subjects such as STEM – science, technology, engineering, and maths. As Keegan puts it, these subjects will allow young people to “pursue studies that enable them to progress into employment” and that “benefit them as well as the wider economy.”

Who says that STEM subjects are “strategically important”? Who has the right to make that decision for all the young people who may excel in creative subjects?

Is she saying here that the arts are not viable? That they do not provide employment or benefit the economy?

She obviously hasn’t looked at the facts.

STEM related industries within the UK might employ half a million more people than the creative industry - that’s 2.9m vs 2.4m - however, the creative sector is worth £126bn to the economy each year, which is more than automotive, aerospace, oil and gas and life sciences put together!

According to City UK: “The arts generate £5 in taxes for every £1 of public investment. While the UK’s overall trade deficit is £53bn, the creative industries run at a surplus of £22.7bn.”

Now that is a great statistic that we should all be raving about!

Another devastating blow for the arts is the government cutting funds to £20m for the access scheme Uni Connect. This means fewer people from disadvantaged backgrounds will be exposed to the arts or have fair opportunities to gain hands-on experience or work in the industry.

Following Keegan’s letter to all universities and colleges, Gordon McKenzie, Chief Executive at GuildHE says: “But decisions like this show the Department for Education doesn’t get the message and repeatedly makes policy and funding decisions that damage the creative talent pipeline on which those industries depend.”

These cuts are not only taking away fantastic opportunities from all young people but also some people’s lifeline.

As I have said before, many times, STEM subjects aren’t for everyone. We don’t all excel in the classroom, for many it’s on the stage, in front of sheet music, or with a paintbrush in our hand. We must not forget that every child learns differently, and every child is different.

From a very young age, we are introduced to artsinging, dancing, painting, using our imaginations, and having fun. The arts help us to express our creativity, collaborate, problem-solve, improvise, and more. We learn this at a very early stage.

As we get older, the focus on enjoying arts diminishes and the opportunities continue to be taken away, quashing people’s creativity and losing some very important transferable skills and techniques.

The only way, it seems, to experience the arts now is outside of the classroom, in extra classes that will come at a price. Once again it will be the privileged who will be able to afford to participate.

Without universities offering performing and creative arts courses, is performing arts college the only way to go? Will they have space? Will costs go up because of demand? How will this affect those who are from disadvantaged backgrounds? Arts and culture should be available and accessible to everyone.

Before they make cuts to anything, the government must think about how their decisions will affect the next generation. What they think is right for the country, is certainly not right for everyone.

Should young people not be able to make their own decisions instead of being told which subjects they must study?

At The Play’s The Thing Theatre Company, we continue to champion the next generation with our Creative Youth Board. We offer many opportunities to learn and experience every element of theatre – from playwriting and producing to acting and movement – they work with local and award-winning individuals who will help them excel. The Creative Youth Board is part of our Taking the Stage festival and performs a new piece that they have written.

We also bring in teams from local colleges, including Milton Keynes College for productions by our community theatre company, Pepper’s Ghost. Our current show is ‘Not A Game For Girls’ by Benjamin Peel, which is on at Stantonbury Theatre from 16th – 19th May

We need more opportunities like this. The way the government is going, it will only further damage our cultural industries but stop new blood and new talent from coming in. It has to stop.

The arts continue to be disrespected in the UK and perceived as something that is not needed or less important than other subjects. It’s just not true. When are the arts going to be seen for what they truly are and reinstated back into education?