A Rant

15 Mar

This rant came about after an exchange of tweets between myself and Samuel West, Chair of the National Campaign for Arts.  It is my opinion and I am ready to listen to anybody who does not agree with it.

Fund the Arts or fund the disabled, can we do both?  In an ideal world most definitely yes.  Unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal world.

Actors, writers, artists (and related occupations) do their jobs because they obviously love their profession and chose to enter it.  Would that we could all say the same.  Job satisfaction is desirable but not essential when forced to earn a living.   Some engaged in these areas may at one time or another ‘suffer’ for their art but they chose their path and if the going gets rough and jobs dry up they are perfectly able to choose another if they so wish.

The same cannot be said for many afflicted with disability.  They do not choose to be disabled and cannot change their path if help dries up; they can only suffer more.  They cannot wake up one day and say, ‘It’s too hard.  I’m shrugging off my disability and becoming able again.’   They are at the mercy of their disability and those who are able.

So, in times of austerity when funding for all sorts of projects is being cut to the bone who should take priority?  If a theatre closes and actors and others lose their jobs, it’s sad.  But no sadder than nurses, teachers, miners, factory workers or any workers losing their jobs.  Those who demand an unprofitable theatre be kept open should put their money where their mouths are and contribute or ask the more affluent for donations.  Or is that to undignified?

If a social programme is removed it is an entirely different matter.  Yes, some people may lose their jobs (see how the disabled contribute to the job market, Mr.West?)  but those already at the bottom of the heap, i.e. the disabled, will be ground even further into the dirt.  The housebound are left with fewer carers to attend their needs in such areas as personal hygiene and diet.  Parents of disabled children might very well lose their respite care or other means which help them cope in a very demanding situation.  Old people dependent on meals-on-wheels will go hungry.  These are just three examples from many I could quote.

I challenge any able-bodied person, choose a disability; study it, then try to live a week, seven short days, doing only what that disability will allow.  Or find a parent of a severely disabled child and try to imagine what life is like for them.  No matter how hard you try, you will never truly  experience the reality of the mental and emotional effects that such situations have on the disabled and their carers.

Will an actor die because he loses his job or can’t find one?  He may suffer the indignity of ‘signing on’ until he finds work and if he doesn’t he may have to leave his chosen profession.  Note those two words ‘suffer’ and ‘chosen’.   The majority of disabled people don’t just suffer indignities every single day of their lives, they SUFFER mentally, emotionally and physically.  Do you think that given a choice they would have CHOSEN to be disabled?  And it’s no great leap of the imagination to see how the most vulnerable in our society might die for lack of care or be so ground down that they want to die.  It’s hard not see an agenda here.

Those who want art should pay for art or create their own.  After all, who decides what is art and what is not.  Do you think those cave-wall artists looked to ‘experts’ to tell them?  Do you think the first storytellers anguished about not getting the right training?  Yes, art is part of culture but culture changes and so do the needs of the people.  If art as defined by the ‘experts’  cannot sustain itself then how relevant is it?  Samuel West tweeted (and I paraphrase) art is not about buying it’s about going to see. (taxpayers have been buying, if not enjoying art for years)  So can he explain to me how, due to austerity cuts, the disabled, forced to stay at home, without means to live even a semi independent life,   are able to ‘go and see’?  Or is he too busy trying to save unprofitable theatres, at taxpayers expense, to understand or even care that the disabled, who,  like the rest of the population, have hopes and dreams but above all needs and at the very least a modicum of  dignity.  I’m sorry, I’m probably being unfairly critical of him in this instance.

Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan said ‘Art is what you can get away with.’  Maybe he was right, maybe he was wrong but what is definite is that disability is something that the disabled can never get away from, at least not in this life.  Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.’  It would seem that this nation is way down the list of greatness no matter how much art there is about.

I’ve been told that I’m conflating two separate issues or, as Mr.West puts it, using a false dichotomy.  Perhaps.  He suggests that cutting art funding does not mean that the money will be spent on meals-on-wheels for example.  He may be right but one has to ask, is the money even there in the first place?  The disabled are already being penalized by government to the extent that many are suffering horrendously.  But hey!  As long as there’s a theatre open which they cannot ‘go to’, everything is fine.  Isn’t it?  Well no, it most obviously is not.  The taxpayers contribute to one pot of money but there are a myriad of deserving causes that want a cut of it.   Where should our priorities  lie?  Do we want great art or a great nation?  I’m not against funding the arts but on a scale of priorities the care of the most vulnerable members of our society must come first.  And if that doesn’t happen, then like I mentioned earlier, there must be an agenda at work, a most sinister agenda that we really don’t want to even imagine.

PS.  My apologies to Mr.West if he thinks I’m being unfair.  I’m sure he is not as uncaring as I seem to be making him out to be.  He is obviously as passionate about the arts as I am about the care of the disabled.  Maybe one day (I won’t hold my breath) we will both have our hopes fulfilled.

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