I was just thinking... is it time to invest in the Arts?

Buskers perform at the arts festival

Buskers perform at the arts festival - Credit: Archant

I WAS just thinking… about the Arts.

It’s the ever so slightly pretentious terminology used by those who work in the professional creative industries for what they do.

The capital ‘A’ is important to them. It gives the activity political credibility. Like the ‘H’ in Housing, the ‘D’ in Defence or the ‘E’ in Education. It makes the activity feel important, worthy. The problem is that, unlike the three comparators, the Arts is not a statutory service. No government, whether on a national or a local level, is obliged to provide them or to cause them to be provided.

For many years now the local authorities on our patch have been able to point, with some justification, to the proximity of Cambridge and London and the proliferation of Arts opportunities in those places, to justify the lack of facilities on our own doorstep. Now, with public expenditure under the cosh, North Hertfordshire District Council and Hertfordshire County Council are no doubt breathing heartfelt sighs of relief that they don’t have to justify such a non-statutory spend.

From the relative security of a community which has no professional Arts provision it is instructive to look at those communities which are losing theirs. Somerset County Council has ceased to provide any money at all to fund the Arts. One theatre has already closed, depriving the county town of a much-cherished service.

So should we be smug and think how lucky we are in having nothing to lose? Or should we be wondering what we are missing and what we have been missing for a very long time?

Royston, Baldock and Letchworth have a pitifully small number of professional Arts institutions which are able to provide our communities with that vital cultural counterbalance to those ever speedier, target-driven, value-for-money lives which we all live. Perhaps it doesn’t matter if the amateur scene is vibrant. Who needs those flouncy professionals in their cravats swanning around calling each other ‘darling’ and displaying far too much tactile familiarity in public?

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Yet there is an overwhelming feeling that as disinvestment in society becomes an ever-increasing reality and as the state shrinks and local authorities struggle to maintain their own credibility, we need the Arts more than ever. They entertain, they divert, they stimulate and they provoke. They provide original ideas. They are dissident, they are seditious, they are joyful, they are occasionally disgusting. More than anything they are a running commentary on how we choose to live our lives and on how we choose the people who tell us how to live our lives.

Perhaps now is the time for North Hertfordshire District Council to be in the vanguard and do something dynamic like provide a new Arts facility for us all to enjoy. Some hope!