Today of all days, I am going to be spending my time working on a Grant for the Arts bid. I feel sick about it really. I'm not sure how I'm going to begin to think about it while my twitter stream is full of the most polarized emotions pouring out from Arts Organisations all over the UK... High fives and whoops of relief and delight one moment, and then quiet, sad tweets expressing disbelief... 'We didn't get it'... Of course I'm sending a huge smile of relief to many companies who I see have got their funding. I am glad for you, but today belongs to those who are facing up to being cut and my heart is with those who have lost out.
It's also with ACE staff who have been given the grisly task of implementing the cuts when the blame lies with our shortsighted and arrogant government. A government determined to enforce their intellectually unfounded, ideologically driven decisions against all good reason and sense. There is a word for these people and it is despicable. Despicable is a harsh word but just about the only one good enough for them. I wish for these people only their own reflection. I wish for them only what they would wish for the majority of people in this country. I hope they get everything they deserve.
It is hard not to see this day as a day of winners and losers. But I want to argue the point and ask you to reject this. It is such a widespread premise that life is founded on competition and yet there is so much that points away from this idea... Here's a bit I've lifted from a workshop I ran for writers about this time last year for the Emerge Festival in Leeds:
14 years ago specilised brain cells called ‘mirror neurons’ were discovered in Monkeys. They activate when a monkey performs an intentional action (picking up the banana) and when it sees another monkey performing that action (watching the banana being picked up).
In 2007 these cells were confirmed to exist inside human’s heads. Thus - What we see is not so different from what we do!
As Andrew Tuplin in his article in Adbusters The Whole Brain Catalog #90, says:
“The idea has worked its way into the zeitgeist and become a potent new way of seeing ourselves in relationship with each other. People have begun to wonder if mirror neurons could be responsible for language, culture, empathy and even morality. Where Darwinian survival of the fittest has… imagined us as the strong pitted against the weak in a fatal struggle for food and sex, the mirror neuron suggests (the) importance of social strengths: that we are hardwired for empathy, that we are naturally interested not only in our own needs but also in the interests of others”
Perhaps life and art is not a competition after all! I am coming to believe this more and more.
Does that sound counter intuitive to you? If so, is that because it can't be true or because you've been told all your life it isn't true? That's a question. I think its something (baering in mind the huge challenges we have re our climate, human rights, our economy, etc etc etc) that we could all do with giving some proper thought to. It might in the end save some lives...
But back to today... How does this idea sit with what is happening today? What does it have to do with this day of the axe? This day of the cutting. This day of days. This moment when artists discover their fate. Good enough or not good enough? Admired enough? Up and coming enough? Sexy enough? Young enough? Old and respected enough?
I think even those who have 'won' today know somewhere, at some level that we are all reduced by this process. We are all poorer. We are now less diverse, less multi-headed and more cowed. We have all chosen to buy into a process, which necessitated us to think 'logically' and 'do the best in a bad situation'. I understand this. I am part of it. I am not a member of an arts organisation but I am someone who benefits from work with funded companies. My partner (and the main breadwinner in our household) works for a funded arts organisation (which incidentally did not get NPO status today)... So understand that, the implied criticism that I make here is as directed at myself as at anyone else. I don't like to admit it but as a point of fact it’s true. We have, in all our different capacities 'done the best we could all do, baering in mind that we have rent to pay and bills to pay and hopes of a career and, and, and...' But imagine if every artist and arts organisation had rejected the premise and as a point of principle had decided to stand together and refuse to bid for NPO status? If the Royal Opera House had stood shoulder to shoulder with Red Ladder Theatre Company? I suspect we might all be in a different position today. I suspect Jeremy Hunt would have had to back-track away from these cuts. I can’t see him wanting the demise of the ROH to have happened on his watch! I also suspect that everyone ‘winners and losers’ alike would all feel better about ourselves today. We would not feel cowed and we would not have the hollow, empty,directionless feeling of impotent anger in our bellies...
I also have a feeling, if we are in the end to ‘uncut’ our country and save what is dear to us (NHS, Libraries etc etc etc) that we’re all going to have to get our heads around this little conundrum. 'All for one and one for all' may yet turn out to be the only sensible option after all…
But while you think about that, I’d better get back to my funding bid. It's the logical thing to do after all.