I was really glad to see Seamus Heaney trending on twitter today, not because it meant he had died, although I generally presume this when I see any full name trending on twitter, but because it meant people cared. As both a music student and just a member of society, I feel like there are constant messages being fired at us that either art is degenerating or that people who actually care about art are a dwindling and insignificant minority. Admittedly I may be highly sensitive, but I doubt I’m alone in getting this feeling. Whenever there are full staff briefings or presentations at the Sage Gateshead where I work, the whole dialogue is consciously rooted in a landscape which presumes that the water supplies running down to the roots of a fantastic, life-changing and genuinely influential institution bringing art to people and bringing people into art are being cut off. Any slight growth, economically, in interest, in participation, whatever is seen as a blessed burst of light in the darkness. It is presumed that because of the economic climate, and I expect too, the prominence of mass media, mass production and a general sense of ‘deculturalisation’, perhaps through these things, that people will no longer be interested in what concert halls, theatres, galleries etc have to offer. When the people who have dedicated their lives and careers to promotion, support and facilitation of the arts feel bleak about the state and future of their passion, the situation is undeniably grim. No one wants to believe what they do not want to be true, and I find that people often do their best to avoid doing so until it becomes impractical.
Across the river in Newcastle party politics means that the region has lost a thunderously harsh amount of funding. I won’t go too far into it suffice to say we know who’s currently in charge of the money nationally, and we also know that certain patterns in voting tendencies exist in certain areas and the reasons therefore behind the £217.93 loss of funding per capita in Newcastle against the £15.18 decrease per capita in Epsom & Ewell seem pretty translucent (see directions of votes at last general election for any required elucidation). I needn’t dwell in such gloomy places here though. Maybe another time. So, on account of some pretty steep cuts it was announced that 100% of arts funding would be cut. I’m not very good at numbers so will just clarify for anyone similar, and also to reinforce. That is all money from council for arts gone. In addition ten out of a total eighteen public libraries will be closed down. That’s more than half. Whatever you want to believe the overall causes of the funding cuts are, it has lead to the arts sector being institutionally devalued. In the summer holidays when kids won’t have access to school libraries, when there will be no music lessons or drama clubs, (although I’m sure Gove has something up his sleeve to ‘solve’ their existence) children in Newcastle will not be able to read books for free. Whatever you think of Jamie Oliver’s ‘massivefuckingtelly-gate’ stance, when there are no libraries that you don’t have to get a (paid) bus to, no free playschemes, and so on and so forth and again until it hurts, the options for other forms of free education and artistic outlet and reception outside of television are being institutionally reduced. I don’t want to get into an argument about whether or not kids should be playing outdoors making their own games up 24/7 or similar, that isn’t the point. The point is more something along the lines of ‘is this really what a ‘developed’ and ‘civilised’ society looks like?’
However, my point today is that sad though it is that Seamus Heaney has died, although it does happen to all of us, or so I believe, I was glad that he spent the day trending on twitter. I was relieved, delighted and restored to see his name. Because as much as my local council are telling us that there isn’t space for arts in the climate of today, whatever the overbearing, blaring screens of homogenised mass-produced media might suggest and whatever the arts ‘industries’ fear, Seamus Heaney surfed the net today. He spent the day on that list. And unless someone at twitter HQ is a massive fan and hijacked the system, it has been proved that people DO care about the arts today. Poets and poetry does have a place in a society overwhelmed with mass media on a backdrop of a grey ‘loss of culture’. So well done Seamus, what a legacy. Thank you Seamus, for what you gave the humanity. And thank you humanity, for proving that people do care, and the arts are alive.