Art is Not a Luxury

Kelly Grehan

My friends all laugh at the fact I’ve seen the musical Wicked 7 times, but it’s a source of continued disappointment to me that I haven’t seen it more times because nothing makes me feel like I feel when I see the actress playing Elphaba sing the song ‘No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.’

I don’t have any creative talent. I cannot paint or sing or dance.  But I know that seeing the right painting, hearing the right song or watching the right dance can make me feel alive.

It is a popular myth  that when Churchill was asked to cut arts funding in favour of the war effort, he simply replied, ‘Then what are we fighting for?’”

Whilst this story is, alas, not true, it does represent a truth – that without art life is infinitely worse.

During the lockdown the art community have been responsible for bringing joy into our lives. I enjoyed watching Jesus Chris Superstar and A Streetcar Named Desire on YouTube. I looked forward to watching Patrick Stewart reading a sonnet every morning. Gary Barlow singing with a different singer every few days was fun. 

How many people found comfort in drawing rainbows and placing them in their windows or were cheered by counting those they saw on their daily walk? Was this not art therapy at its most basic level?

How many of us watched old films and old TV shows and found solace in them during this period?

Aside from sport, art is the thing that gets us talking, the thing that defines us. Remember the arguments people would have about the Turner Prize? Remember the excitement of seeing a band and the warm up act being so good you started downloading their songs on the way home. 

Whilst there are many industries we in the UK have lost over the years, but our arts industries have remained a source of pride.

But now the industry is in real trouble. 

The collapse of the arts, with a £74bn drop in revenues and about 400,000 potential and actual job losses in the sector owing to the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, has prompted calls for urgent government assistance, as there is little prospect of a swift return to full houses in theatres, or other live performance, and recording has been halted by social distancing restrictions.

Things are at a stage where even the Globe has warned it could face insolvency.

There is so much for us to fight for at the moment – our children’s education, out healthcare system, so much about our way of life – that it feels frivolous to be worrying about the arts. 

But

What kind of world do we want when this is all over?

I believe one where we don’t have the arts will be one with much less joy.

We must stop thinking of art as a luxury and see it something we need.

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