Much as I have recently banged the drum for popular music being taken seriously as part of the arts, and receiving funding that acknowledges that, I’ve had a couple of conversations of late with folk older and far wiser than myself who made a very good case as to why allocating funds in all walks of life has to be completely revamped.
These were people old enough to remember when there was no lottery funding and yet the arts still flourished, and in fact some would say things were a lot healthier.
Even I’m old enough to remember when it cost £6000 to make an album. A band had to go into a recording studio and that wasn’t cheap.
There was no viable home recording equipment then. If lucky, a friend might be a graphic designer, but I can remember from the Avalanche label in the 80s and 90s the perils of not getting the artwork quite right.
Then, with CDs you had to make a thousand and at very best would break even on your overall outlay.
Four guys in a band would do part time bar jobs and work in restaurants on top of their day jobs just to raise that £1500 each to go into the recording studio.
Now, of course things are so much easier, and though it is no doubt harder to get people interested in new music, despite the wonders of the internet, there is still a real lack of urgency these days in most bands’ promotion of their music.
As I’ve discovered throughout the arts, the obsession is with funding and the one thing funding is not based on is whether something is a good idea or whether “the art” is any good.
Obviously there will always be a problem with subjectivity but now so many other factors come into play from what region you are in to whether you are considered to be from a minority group that should be supported.
What is not allowed for now is how rapidly information and education has become available to just about everybody via the internet. If some clever sod quotes from John Fowles and I don’t know who he is, it takes me seconds to look him up on Wikipedia and find out he was “an English novelist of international stature, critically positioned between modernism and postmodernism.”
You will need that later!
Now when I was a kid in the sixties I would have looked that up in the 12-volume Encyclopaedia Britannica we had, and if not there it would be a trip to the library. We didn’t even have a phone so there was no “phone a friend option” either.
There are many quotes about how important culture is to society and they are not wrong. The thing is that knowledge to a large extent is now available to anybody who searches it out for free, while, for instance, our National Health Service can only need more money as we all live longer and the costs associated with that escalate.
What these wise older folk were saying is that society needs to completely overhaul the way it looks at allocating funding of all types and from all sources, be that to health, education, housing, the arts or all the other areas that receive monies in one way or another.
The reasoning behind this re- allocation would be based on the very sensible premise that the internet and technology in general have made our lives a lot easier in some areas and has put a strain on other areas.
Reallocating funds to match this can only make sense.
In conversation with a staunch supporter of the old Royal High School and all the associated buildings and views, I put it to him that never mind a hotel being built either side, if for some reason the demolition of the school facilitated a state-of-the-art cancer ward, the bulldozers would be on Calton Hill tomorrow and nobody would object. He agreed.
So maybe the argument is not popular music versus the visual arts but whether all that arts funding is really the best use of the limited resources we have.
That is not to diminish the importance of the arts but to accept they have benefited in a way other areas haven’t from these technological times we live in.
So much money is ring fenced as having to be spent in one way or another and maybe it is time to question that.
Places like libraries can reinvent themselves and that is to be commended, but there are too many areas still where people are simply protecting their own interests, and to be fair their jobs, when all common sense says the money they are receiving would be used better elsewhere.