Defunding the arts devalues our mental health.

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Defunding the arts devalues our mental health.

The UK government’s recent decision to cut funding for higher education arts courses is certain to have a devastating effect on our country’s collective cultural wealth, but what about the effect it may have on our individual mental health?

defunding the arts

A few weeks ago, the UK government announced that they would be slashing funding to arts and cultures courses at higher education institutions by 50%. The cuts would affect around 13 subject areas including art, design, music, drama, dance, media studies and journalism, and are expected to render many of these courses financially unviable for many universities.

This announcement came with an immense backlash online, with industry workers and famous faces alike uniting in protest against the devastating cuts.

Renowned composer Andrew Lloyd Webber – who has been notoriously vocal in supporting artists throughout the pandemic, even stating that he would face arrest over the debut of his latest production Cinderella – was one of the first to speak out against the government’s plans to make cuts, calling them ‘idiotic and short sighted’.

His sentiments were closely backed by Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo and Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker, who suggested that the cuts would deter those from lower socio-economic backgrounds from pursuing artistic careers. However, even collectively, the calls of so many celebrated artists seemed to fall upon deaf ears as the plans were approved and finalised only a matter of weeks later.

The government is set to save a massive £17 million from these cuts, all of which will be transferred into the funding of science, technology, engineering and maths based subjects. Obviously, this extra funding is a great and much-needed gain for the science and technology industries, however, it is unquestionably completely unfair that this gain comes from a loss for the arts.

This sentiment is backed by successful arts graduate and set designer Es Devlin, who acknowledged that although the training of medical students is necessary for our country’s physical health, the training of arts students is necessary for our ‘cultural national health’. I’d argue that there’s one intersection where both are helpful in the same respect, and that is that both are necessary to preserve our mental health.

defunding the arts
Es Devlin in her studio.

Fatima’s next job could be in cyber – she just doesn’t know it yet."

Conservative Government campaign to retrain artists.

Laura Young, principal researcher of a new study investigating the link between depression and the arts, recently published her findings that school arts programs could be extremely beneficial to students experiencing depression. Young suggested that this is largely due to the fact that school arts programmes, such as a painting class or a writing club, can provide a safe place for young people to express themselves, reflect on difficult emotions, and provide ‘a meaningful, targeted focus’.

Young’s paper is one of many in a new string of studies all categorised as ‘neuroesthetics’ (the scientific study of the neurobiological basis of the arts). Another of these neuroesthetic studies convincingly argues that by creating art, we can reduce our cortisol (stress) levels and induce positive mental states. This sentiment rings truer than ever before in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, in which it seems that more people used art as a therapy tool than ever before.

defunding the arts
Photo by Frankie Cordoba

Laura Young, principal researcher of a new study investigating the link between depression and the arts, recently published her findings that school arts programs could be extremely beneficial to students experiencing depression. Young suggested that this is largely due to the fact that school arts programmes, such as a painting class or a writing club, can provide a safe place for young people to express themselves, reflect on difficult emotions, and provide ‘a meaningful, targeted focus’.

Young’s paper is one of many in a new string of studies all categorised as ‘neuroesthetics’ (the scientific study of the neurobiological basis of the arts). Another of these neuroesthetic studies convincingly argues that by creating art, we can reduce our cortisol (stress) levels and induce positive mental states. This sentiment rings truer than ever before in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, in which it seems that more people used art as a therapy tool than ever before.

Interestingly, one large UK study of adult mental health during the pandemic discovered that over 20% of people engaged more with the arts during lockdown than before. One of the largest examples of this heightened interaction came with the release of the award-winning musical Hamilton on Disney+.

TV analytics company Samba TV reported that, during the 10 days of its official debut, Hamilton was streamed by approximately 2.7 million households. The company went on to suggest that the audience of Hamilton in those first 10 days exceeded not only the number of people who had previously seen the show on Broadway, but also the number of people who had seen a production of the show anywhere, proving online streaming to be admirably accessible and solidifying the power and popularity of theatre.

Whilst the streaming of art as a method of stress-relief and relaxation proved popular, the direct interaction with creative practices also proved vital to the nation’s mental health throughout the pandemic. The culture, health and wellbeing alliance released a report containing 50 strong examples of this, including: Project ‘Arts Drop’, by the Creative Learning Guild in Yorkshire, which used accessible arts and culture based activities to help 2,500 at-risk children, young carers, and refugees to boost their wellbeing; South-Western organisation Theatre Orchard, which tackled loneliness and emotional struggles by organising online festivals, events and workshops for over 20,000 vulnerable adults; and finally, London-based organisation Intermission Youth, which provided online opportunities for exercise, performance, and learning to young people with BAME backgrounds, gaining traction in Summer 2020 as they supported adolescents through the murder of George Floyd and the following BLM protests.

Since March 2020, all these industries and organisations have been forced to be innovative with the ways in which they could continue to work, stretching themselves to provide art, culture, entertainment, and a means of wellbeing to the general public. The results have been immeasurable, with clearly so many people’s daily lives having been improved by the presence of creative opportunities and events.

And yet, the government have responded by hitting the arts with devastating blow after blow. From Rishi Sunak encouraging artists to retrain, to theatre reopenings being delayed whilst football stadiums ran at near-full capacity, and now, to have the funding for budding, future artists cut in half. A spokesman for the University of the Arts London described this move as undermining the government’s ‘commitment to the creative industries’, stating that the cuts will ‘affect student preparedness for the workplace’ and decrease the quality of teaching and learning provided to students. However sadly, despite these many commendable arguments, the government can’t seem to be stopped.

After 18 months’ proof of how creative practices have saved the wellbeing of so many UK citizens in a time when they needed it most, by pursuing their plan to make devastating cuts, the government are sending a very strong message that our nation’s mental health does not matter, and neither do the arts.

About Post Author

Hannah Oliver

Editor of Arts & Culture for Chapter Z (She/Her) Features in BBC Radio | The Tab | Gen Z Mag | Contact me about anything arts & culture: hannah.oliver@chapterzmagazine.com
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