The Importance of Arts Funding and Cultural Capital

The Importance of Arts Funding and Cultural Capital

Hetty Sieling argues against the cutting of arts funding, stressing the importance of the arts at a time when politicians suggest otherwise.

At the time of writing, a lecture on the commercial aspect of the humanities was hosted by the Literature Society. The problem, highlighted by the talk, is this: the arts do have an impact on all of our lives and they are a necessity, but not in the same way as nurses, train timetables and roofs on houses.

We need to pump money into the arts. Of course, government budgets are in no way infinite, and it is fair enough that nurses will be handed more than conceptualist wallpaper designers. But the artists should not get no money at all, and the treasurers should not ignore the fact that these seemingly pretentious darlings actually affect all of our lives by entertaining us, making us feel all warm and fuzzy, teaching us, making us think twice, reminding us that life is short and therefore acting as surrogate for counsellor, lecturer and (if we are honest) friend from time to time.

If the pot of money is not limited but there is not much of it, we must be wary of the infamous false dichotomy – being presented with two options when there are more available. When someone tells you that there is a choice between cutting all music lessons for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds and cutting lung cancer treatment, you do not have to believe that there is no middle path.

I fear there is a kind of charming opportunism in the cutting of spending on the arts during times of economic austerity. Times are not tough for some people at the moment whilst millions of others are being forced to experience a dire quality of living.

By enjoying the arts and building up a body of knowledge and experience of it over the years, one can benefit not only from the fun of going to the theatre and listening to live music – which as I have made clear is a good in and of itself – but also from the bizarre respect that is given to the cultured, despite the fact that this trait requires money, not skill.

If I remember correctly, sociology at school taught me all about the term ‘cultural capital’ which refers to this bizarre respect I mentioned. Even if you are not impoverished, quite often the cost of culture in all its diverse forms will put you off. This does not promote equality of opportunity.

We thus need to fund the arts so that access is not limited to an elite, or limited to all but ‘the underclass’. How do we do this without involving funding from unethical bodies or corporations? Governments will not, and I will admit they cannot, provide all of the money needed. But if they dare to take advantage of an economic disaster and tell us there is ‘no other way’ but to cut arts funding to the extreme, when in fact this is simply implementation of a neoliberal agenda, I will need a word.


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