New Deal or no New Deal

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(New) Deal or No (New) Deal

"Like all vital experiences in life, (culture) must....include participation in the broadest human sense. Today we are trying to give (everyone) the opportunity to ...make art a vital part of their lives."

Not the words of a current UK Minister for Culture but Thomas Parker setting out the ethos for the 1935 US Federal Arts Programme.1 This is not to say that participation and access have been absent from our recent cultural policy. But, as recession kicks in and an election beckons, politicians and political commentators are falling over each other in their eagerness to embrace the concept of the New Deal. Commendable as this may be, I believe we need to take a step back, and re-examine Roosevelt's initiative in the context of political and social realities. To start with Roosevelt was elected on a platform of radical reform. Driven by a desire to create a more equal society - where "social values" were placed above those of the "self seekers, he wanted US citizens to find their happiness, not "in the mere possession of money...but in the thrill of creative effort."2. Two years into his presidency it was clear that the social mobility he hoped for would take more than fiscal intervention; "We find our population suffering from the old inequalities.....we have not weeded out the over-privileged and we have not effectively lifted up the underprivileged...." .3 The answer was Federal Art Project One4. FD's choice of Dewey5 disciple, Holger Cahill, to head up this programme was no accident. Not only did he want to see access to "high culture" for all but arts institutions were to be charged with connecting to the values and culture of the American people. Art was to become part of everyday experience and 7% of the total WPA budget was to be directed to these programmes. The Federal Writers, Theatre


2 3

Speaking on development of Federally (State) Sponsored Community Arts Centers. 1935 ibid

Annual Message to Congress January 4 1935 The Works Progress Administration 5 'Art as Experience", 4

and Arts Projects would offer" all Americans access to an abundant life".6 Classes in sculpture, music making and theatre were to be as central to the programmes of the 100 new community arts centres as poetry readings, classical concerts and art exhibitions.7 As a period of creative renewal it was without precedent. WPA (New Deal) arts projects set the bar for integration and equal opportunities. It was the first time orchestras played pieces by black composers, the first time the stories of the slaves were written up and collected. Over 40% of the artists funded by the programme were women. One year into the programme, Cahill could claim, they had brought art: "to those ... who, in the past, have not had the opportunity to enjoy (it)" 8: a fitting model for any government wishing to engage the creative sector in its economic turn-around. Unlike 1930s America, however, the UK is emerging from what our politicians have told us is a "golden age"9 of state subsidy: a period in which cultural life has "never been richer�10. And yet our civic "participation gap" has widened. We may not be suffering unemployment on the same scale as 1930's America, but the dislocation between people and government is palpable. If engagement with arts and culture and institutional trust are entwined, how do we account for the current breakdown? IPPR's 2006 report on cultural policy11 offers one explanation: whilst funding may indeed have increased "in real terms" it is still the affluent and well educated who have continued to "benefit most from publicly subsidised art and heritage".12 Not so surprising for a nation whose cultural institutions were built on notions of privilege. Sir Joshua Reynolds, president of the first public art gallery (Royal Academy of Art 1780), may have believed in love of art as a civilising virtue, but it was a vision confined to "those whom their superiority sets free from labour": an occupation for gentlemen unsuited to the "mechanick" classes. The decision to include the word, "Royal", in the Academy's title only serving to highlight the role of our cultural institutions as consolidators rather than challengers of class difference. While the "revolutionary" poets and painters of the Romantic Movement, may have glorified the idealised rural life of the "common man" they saw no need (with the exception of Blake) to engage with his day-to-day realities. Mass unemployment, Irish immigration and the rise of Chartism may have awakened 19th century politicians to the potential of art for the masses but it was as a panacea to the effects of industrialisation, slum housing and the distractions of the gin palaces. Even enlightened social reformers, such as Samuel and Henrietta Barnett, offered workers a "deeper and more significant experience" through their Whitechapel Touring Exhibitions in the hope that it would bring about their social improvement. And if the Education Act of 1902 did suggest local authorities should encourage children's appreciation of art through visits to galleries and museums it was without any thought of introducing arts to the curriculum. It took the strikes and civil unrest of the 1930s to prompt the first public initiatives in arts education but participation and personal creativity remained low on the list of 6 "American resources in the arts" essay quoted Francis V O'Connor "Art for the Millions" ed. 1973 9 Tony Blair Keynote speech at Tate Modern 6 Mar 2007 7 8

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Tessa Jowell, Culture Secretary Tate Modern 6 Mar 2007 From Access to Participation Cultural policy and civil renewal ISBN: 1860302815 Author: Emily Keaney From Access to Participation Cultural policy and civil renewal ISBN: 1860302815 Author: Emily Keaney

priorities. When a group of miners approached the WEA13 for someone to run an art class no one imagined they might actually want to paint14. In a wonderfully ironic twist, the story of these "Pitmen Painters" currently enjoys a life on the stages of the National Theatre, while the work itself is housed in the Woodhorn Colliery Museum and Gallery: a 21st century nod to regeneration long after the mines themselves ceased to offer a sense of either community or employment. The onset of World War II and growing demands for education, equality and freedom and the need for shared sense of "what we were fighting for" did finally awaken UK politicians to the value of arts and culture to civil society. Although direct public subsidy was to be avoided, in the fear it might lead to the "extremities" of the Soviet Union. The Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) was to have been the practical embodiment of this policy. Entrusted with, "the preservation in wartime of the highest standards in the arts of music, drama and painting, it soon rejected Roosevelt's model of local community arts. If this was to be ‘the people's war’ then what better way to raise the morale of a disenchanted workforce than by engaging them with "high class" arts and cultural activities? Despite the Pilgrim's Trust's avowal that appreciation of the arts must always be "closely linked to their practice"15, CEMA did little to engage with the principles of participation16. Powerful lobbies from the right wing press and London theatre soon oversaw the diversion of funding to national tours by establishment organisations. By December 1941 "amateur" arts had been firmly relegated to the stewardship of the National Council of Social Service. Appointing Maynard Keynes as Chair in 1942, CEMA declared its hand. Eton educated Keynes was openly elitist in his views on art. Under his stewardship he declared CEMA would " seek, increasingly, to aid all those who pursue the highest standards of original composition and executive performance - in all approve the best"17. The common man would be allowed to "take his delight and recreation" in these entertainments, making him feel "that he is one with...a community finer, more gifted, more splendid...than he can be by himself"18. The embourgeouisement of the masses may have begun, but by firmly reinforcing their role as consumers not creators. Jennie Lee, miner's daughter and Britain's first Minister of Arts, made some attempt to redress this balance. Her 1967 revision of the Arts Council Royal Charter, replaced terms such as "fine Art" and "improvement of standards", with more egalitarian ideas. Exclusion from arts activity was, she claimed, "as damaging to the privileged minority as to the under-privileged majority”.19 But while Lee's "Housing of the Arts" bill encouraged the growth of local community arts centres and the regional arts boards, she did little to shift central premises. The tension between preserving high class "excellence"20 and encouraging more participation and equal access continued to embroil UK cultural policy makers. In 1968-9 one third of Arts Council spending was

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16 17 18 19

Kelly, T. (1962; 1970; 1992) A History of Adult Education in Great Britain, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. Martin Wainwright Friday October 27, 2006 The Guardian Art, Government and War - Lessons From the Past by Dr. Lisanne Gibson Arts Hub Australia Friday, April 23, 2004 F.M. Leventhal "The Best for the Most" Twentieth Century British History Vol 1, No 3 1990 JM Keynes The Arts in War-time" Times 11 May 1943 JM Keynes Art and the State The Listener August 1946

"Not only a source of expenditure but a source of income" Lawrence Black Cultural Industries: The British Experience in International Perspective. 2006.


McMasters report

still going on the National Theatre, Royal Opera House, Royal Shakespeare Company and Sadler’s Wells. Thatcher's Minister, Richard Luce's declaration that the arts should look to their audience and make up any funding shortfall through private patronage or sponsorship, set the cultural tone of the '80s: "The only test of our ability to succeed is whether we can attract enough customers". Not to be outdone, William Rees-Mogg, Chair of the Arts Council, went even further, embracing the notion that, "The arts are to British tourism what the sun is to Spain." It is ironic then, that it was Thatcher's government that was responsible, through the Enterprise Allowance scheme, for the 1990s blossoming of independent theatre companies and new galleries run by arts graduates. But in its wake, came the politically convenient realisation that the majority of those working in the arts and culture sectors might be relied upon to survive, not through public funding, but by dint of self-sufficiency, self-employment and creative entrepreneurialism. So, if we, as a sector, are really looking to capture the spirit as well as the letter of Roosevelt's New Deal we may need to become more radical in our thinking. Perhaps, like Roosevelt, it is time to put our money where our mouth is. 1930s America was a nation on the brink of new possibilities. It is not going to be enough for us to take this model and tweak it to fit eleven years of New Labour fudging. We must be prepared not only to think how young artists and cultural workers can be supported in setting up "portfolio" careers and a freelance lifestyle but also how they can contribute in true New Deal style to the quality of life in our nation. We need to think of ways in which they can be helped to survive beyond this initial stage, taking them and us beyond a paradigm of the production of art being the privilege of the few for the many. We need to be ready to confront the concept of funding for "excellence" as no longer being the right of ten or twelve large national institutions.21 And we need to be prepared to transform our models for the public funding of arts and culture to reflect this change. A glance at the list of companies to be funded by the recent ACE £40,million "Sustain" programme, where over 75% of the recipients are national organisations, and over 80% of those with a remit for opera and classical music, might provide us with a useful starting point.