ENYAN An inconvenient truth: Arts and the social divide

Joe Hallgarten proposes a new solution to the uncomfortable fact that attendance at taxpayer-subsidised arts events remains stubbornly skewed by social class.

In 2010, former National Theatre Director Richard Eyre claimed that the coalition government’s policies would create ‘cultural apartheid’ between between those for whom the arts are a part of life and those who feel excluded from them. I’m sorry Richard, but you were boldly predicting what had already happened.

Facing up to failure

“We don’t know what works, and are terrified of admitting when we know it hasn’t.”

The inconvenient truth for all those who work in the arts is that, despite over two decades of detailed targets, bold-sounding funding schemes and ambitious rhetoric, we’ve failed to move the dial on two equally important issues.

First, participation in taxpayer-subsidised arts remains stubbornly skewed by social class (I know the arts world hates the word ‘subsidy’, but let’s call a spade a spade). From various recent studies, it appears that the issue most resistant to change is attendance rather than participation. A post-EU referendum landscape is bringing new focus. Can the arts justify even the tiny subsidies it receives from government, if this is not being used to support the regeneration of the more neglected places and identities within the UK?

Second, we have no good empirical basis on which to make choices about how to change this situation. Worse still, the arts sector’s approach to evaluation of the impact of such schemes remains far too advocacy focused, hamstrung by a funding-hungry quest to demonstrate impact rather than understand efficacy. We have no systematic, replicable breakthroughs in any artform. We don’t know what works, and are terrified of admitting when we know it hasn’t.

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