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Sarah Connolly speech at Westminster: Why we need the arts

16th September 2015

Sarah Connolly, the wonderful British mezzo-soprano, was the principal speaker yesterday afternoon at a special Arts Council England event in Westminster, addressing ministers, MPs and leading arts figures on the vital nature of art for all, its place in Britain and the dangers that face its future. She has sent it to me to publish, so here it is. Read and be inspired.

274 years ago today, on the 14th of September 1741, Georg Friedrich Handel completed the first edition of his legendary oratorio, ‘Messiah’. It is a work associated with children’s charity, and thanks to a royal charter granted to philanthropist Thomas Coram’s Foundling hospital in Bloomsbury, Handel raised awareness and money for the orphans with performances every year for decades. William Hogarth was a governor and he persuaded leading artists Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough to donate works, effectively creating at the hospital the first public art gallery.

Once there, a visitor would see not only the best in contemporary British portraiture, landscape and maritime painting, they would also SEE the children at mealtime and hear them singing in the chapel, and perhaps donate money. This public charity helped cure the symptoms of a deeply divided London society and Hogarth was able to showcase his colleagues’ paintings thereby inventing the NOTION of art for all.

Jumping forward to 1940: In Britain’s darkest hour, when 643m was spent on Defence, Winston Churchill procured a royal charter to create the Committee for Encouragement of Music and the Arts, known as CEMA, he ring-fenced 25k for that purpose.

A small but significant sum, Churchill clearly understood its importance, and said, “The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them … Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.”

Towards the end of the decade, CEMA changed its name to the Arts Council, local government authorised spending on the Arts and in 1951,The Festival of Britain was intended as a tonic to the nation. On London’s South Bank, the Royal Festival Hall was built, the interior designed by Robin Day who will shortly enjoy a centenary celebration in the London Design Festival.

The RFH featured concerts conducted by Sir Adrian Boult and Sir Malcolm Sargent, the two most influential British conductors up until the 1970’s and benefitted from many innovative Arts programmes under the passionate stewardship of Jennie Lee who also renewed the charter for the Arts Council in 1967. The South Bank Centre continues to be at the heart of many different and inclusive projects such as Alchemy, a festival of culture connecting with the Indian sub-continent and “Being a man”, a platform which considers children’s rights to culture and growing up.

The reason why I’m giving this ‘history lesson’ is to put into context the relevance and the importance of the arts in our history as a multi-cultural, sophisticated inclusive nation, rich in humanity. Apart from music’s vital holistic importance, let’s never forget for a moment what we have in our keeping; a towering and deserved global reputation for cultural excellence in our theatres, art galleries, cinemas, ballet and opera houses, stadia and concert halls, in our performers, writers, poets and composers. It is a fragile inheritance: all this could be lost, permanently, if we don’t continue to preserve and provide an artistic educational journey for all, from childhood to university and beyond.

The classical music industry is a small part of the economy, but for the health of the nation it is critical that funding continues. For too long, financial support has been seen as subsidy: in fact it’s investment with clear financial return. The economic benefits however, are significant.

In 2012, 6.5 million music tourists spent £1.3 billion. In January 2015 the Department of Culture, Media and Sport issued for the first time more detailed estimates for the creative industries showing that in 2013, the gross value of the Creative Industries was £76.909 billion – that’s 5% of the UK economy. Music, performing and visual arts was estimated as being £5.453 billion, or 7.1% of the total. The number of jobs sustained by music tourism is just over 24 thousand not to mention the benefits to surrounding communities. Of the live performing organisations, the total income (roughly equal to expenditure) in 2013 was just under £550 million. Include dedicated music schools, broadcasting and recording organisations, and this total figure rose to approximately £785 million.

For the number crunchers among you, these are some interesting figures with significant returns on relatively meagre investments but as your illustrious forbear – himself a painter – stressed, the importance of the arts is immeasurable.

Nietzsche claimed that: Without music life would be a mistake.

Robert Browning said: There is no truer truth obtainable by man, than comes of music.

Many musicians work with hospices and hospitals. Manchester Camerata practitioners have been working alongside qualified Music Therapists since 2012 to deliver pioneering group music therapy sessions for people living with Dementia and their carers. A growing base of academic research shows that the projects improve quality of life, self-expression, communication, confidence and logic, enhance relationships with others, and reduce the use of medication. This is one example of social activism through the Arts, which has been a core consideration across all genres for many years.

As Michael Gove rightly said, “Music education must not become the preserve of those children whose families can afford to pay for music tuition.” The coalition government’s well-thought-out National Plan for Musical Education based on the excellent Darren Henley review created 123 music hubs with funding managed by the Arts Council. Awarding the Arts Council £75 million for 2015/16, the Department of Education says, “Music services should now be funded through music hubs (which can cover one or more local authority areas) and from school budgets, not from the Education Services Grant”.

Economic circumstances have put local authorities in a position where they will find it difficult and in some places undesirable to fund music education. Since music or ANY artistic subject is not planned for EBACC inclusion, a tragedy in my opinion, the only recourse to a musical education will be these music hubs which are not self-sustaining financially and highly unlikely to generate enough income to exist alone. If the government could find a way of ring fencing some local authority money for the Arts then these hubs can supply the critical oxygen to those who most need it, enticing young society into doing something worthwhile, creative and enjoyable. Another more feasible route would be if Ofsted was instructed to reward schools for their Arts achievements. An Outstanding grade cannot be given to a school with a poor Arts programme. Lower achieving schools can also raise their profile this way. It’s a win win.

I was privately educated until my mid teens but without a doubt, I received the best schooling and musical training at a State funded sixth form college in Nottingham in 1980. My experienced teachers, all of them excellent performers were infinitely more qualified than those at my former school, and I would not be here but for their inspirational guidance. I speak for my fellow students too; one of whom is a multi Grammy Award winner as a classical music producer and another is a vocal coach to the stars in London’s West End. In the present climate, State funded schools are struggling to focus on the Arts and from KS4, curriculum based arts are set to vanish and we will lose an enormous tranche of influence, talent, comment and life-experience. I feel we have a duty to all children from all social backgrounds to share our rich artistic history and to think creatively. This is surely what Winston Churchill meant when he said “the Arts are essential to any complete national life.” Roosevelt said in his New Deal, “Art is not a treasure in the past or an importation from another land but part of the present life of all living and creating peoples.”

What musicians want is a snowball effect, retro-education: when the child learns so does the family. It could be called the Billy Elliot effect. We really are the envy of the world on many levels, punching so far above our weight in the Arts, Broadcasting and Entertainment that it is a source of puzzlement to us (and to the outside world) why there is not more recognition of this. Last week, Marin Alsop said, “It’s our responsibility as musicians and audiences to build bridges. El Sistema already has nearly a million kids (world-wide) playing music.” At the LNOPs she said, “the power of music is to unite us and to bring out the best humanity has to offer.”

Orchestras, theatres, opera houses, art galleries, festivals, like the Deal Festival in Kent, the Philharmonia, Glyndebourne, The Hallé, El Sistema-UK run by Julian Lloyd Webber, the Royal Northern Sinfonia ‘In harmony’ projects based around The Sage, Gateshead, the BBC’s successful and engaging 10 Pieces project and many others receive invaluable financial grants from the Arts Council. Musicians put their utmost into helping those who haven’t the means to pay for tuition or who struggle to rent an instrument.We need audiences in the future, we need passion from politicians to lead by example, so come to our concerts, we’d love to see more of you and just ask us to help with any idea, however humble, because, “were it not for music,” said Disraeli, “we might in these days say, the Beautiful is dead.”

Sarah Connolly

Taken from the JDCMB blog

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