What do the economy of Great Britain and a daily newspaper in Chicago have in common? Artistic dilemmas fueled by economic pitfalls.
But that doesn’t make them insignificant or doomed.
Currently in England, a guillotine hangs over the head of art groups, who face slashes by the government to the culture budget after weathering storms from deep local cuts to the arts. The secretary of state for culture, media and sport, Maria Miller, is working to fight against the June 26 deadline for government spending review. As an Economist piece notes, the arts are “profitable” and “popular” in Britain, which makes sense for the land home to West End Theater and The Beatles. By the same token, the dreaded “A” word, austerity, has left Britain as a whole with a 7.8% unemployment rate and the loss of its AAA rating.
Back home in the U.S., the Chicago Sun-Times has laid off all of its full-time photographers, a Pulitzer winner among them. The Sun-Times said that the layoffs were difficult but necessary, as the business model of journalism demands more video-generated content. In place of the professionals, the Sun-Times said it would train their journalists to engage in photography using iPhones (while still commissioning freelance work).
If the arts could be sorted into a Hogwarts house, they would be placed into Hufflepuff. The stereotype suggests a sense of mistaking kindness for weakness, and softness for expendability. Such is the case of the arts during times of economic hardship. The programs threatened to get hit with cuts first seem to often be the ones rich with social value. In the end, it’s because social value doesn’t provide practicality in the same way hard math and the sciences do. We revere artists and continue to teach their work in our schools, but are quick to get into fights with school art departments over how the Crayola crayons needs to go and costuming for a stage production has to be minimized. Rarely do parents support their children in seriously undertaking acting, filmmaking, or writing as life-long occupations. But it’s creativity that big companies such as Apple and Disney seek out in their work force.
Winston Churchill once described a lack of innovation as a corpse. Innovation begins with education and inspiration. If we can’t depend on our childhood education to consistently help channel creativity, where does that leave us? With a cheapened life experience. That sentiment carries over, as it has in the case of the Sun-Times. While iPhones undoubtedly have the capacity to capture quality photos and videos, relegating journalism down to the quick-and-dirty cheapens not only professional photographers and videographers, but also insults readers by restricting access to the best in the field in their news consumption.
The message these two recent events give is that artistic talent is nonessential and replaceable. However, creation is the epitome of human expression, as well as a valuable means of escapism. As long as we’re able to study British literature in our curriculums and see narration return to journalism, creativity will continue to find ways to rise above the demands of the moment.
Recession does not necessarily equate to the end of public support for the arts— only an interlude.