Thursday, 12 July 2012

Funding libraries and the arts

Not all members of the House of Lords are aristocratic in nature, swanning around in castles and ivory towers with a limitless supply of inherited wealth and not having a clue what most people do. Especially since the reforms of 1999, it's a surprisingly mixed bag of people in there. From the House of Lords debate on July 9th 2012, a quote by Nicholas Trench, the 9th Earl of Clancarty, in a longer speech on arts and cultural funding:
For two years, the arts establishment has been patient and felt that it should wait its turn in the queue. But this is a false situation. The same government policy of ideologically driven public funding cuts is cutting back on state allowances, benefits, libraries, museums and symphony orchestras alike. The most devastating news last week was the prediction by the Local Government Association that a shortfall of £16.5 billion would mean an almost complete eradication of funding at the local level of arts and cultural services, including libraries, by 2020 unless there is a radical change in policy.
Alarmist? No, not if you follow factual information sources such as Public Library News which gives you as precise an update on the gradual disintegration of the UK public library service as there is. It's still a matter of concern that public libraries have been shoved in the same boat as the arts in terms of public funding.

As an analogy, it seems rather similar to the mutineers shoving Hudson and a few others into a small boat with minimal supplies, and setting them loose to fend for themselves. I hope the Viscount is wrong. I fear he will be right. Especially as he's a self-employed artist and freelance writer and translator, so he probably knows what he's talking about. One of his posts from last year, on arts funding.
  Library Closed

There's another issue here. The funding of the infrastructure of the arts sector and public libraries, and the funding and recognition of the artists and the librarians, what they actually do and their contribution to society. It struck me this morning listening to a radio debate on this issue, where the person against funding referred to the "place" of the artist in society (know your place? monetise or die?), and the person in favor of funding referred to their "contribution". The "debate" through all media has become deliberately toxic over the last few years, with a defensive vocabulary ("protect", "preserve") not helping.

And little or no mention of what it is that artists and librarians actually, accurately, do. It's this point that really bothers me. Campaigners and politicians may, or may not, be successful in keeping public libraries, art galleries, museums, complexes where artists work, open. But it doesn't solve or reduce a fundamental, national and long-term problem, that a large proportion (possibly most) of the public innocently, and some parts of the media and political infrastructure not so innocently, have very wrong ideas of what librarians and artists actually do. There's more than a grain of truth in the recent "What do I really do" memes for artists and librarians.

A personal feeling is that, until that issue is in some way resolved, or made better, there's always going to be a defensive campaign to "Save libraries", as they come under constant funding assault (and while there are still some left to "save"). It's easier to cut funding to something that is misunderstood by most people. And nope, I don't have a solution to mass educating many millions of people that librarians do (a lot) more than stamp books and put them on shelves.

No comments:

Post a Comment