I’ve just finished reading this passionate post by Michael Billington on the Guardian’s Theatre Blog imploring Jeremy Hunt, the culture minister of the new coalition government in the UK, not to cut funding for the arts. It’s a fairly straightforward argument, complete with the requisite data showing quite clearly that the return on investment for arts funding is solid. It may not win the day in the UK, even with a new Beckett-loving Deputy Prime Minister, but that’s not why I’ve been thinking about it.
What I’ve been dwelling on (with some jealousy, I must admit) is just how well-funded the arts seem to be in the UK — certainly more well funded than they are here in the US. (I’m speaking about government funding, of course.) Even if they do suffer the 20% cut that Billington’s worried about, they’re almost certainly still getting reams more funding than we are. Life is pretty grand in a social democracy, no? (The answer is yes. Yes, it is.)
Now, I’m not pointing out anything new here, of course. Everybody knows the only tea parties in Europe come with scones and cucumber sandwiches. The new thought I’m having is this: when we’re struggling to make a living in the theater, when we can’t seem to find a way to make ends meet, when we can’t scrape up enough dough to get a new project off the ground, even though we really have the best intentions, even though we know we’d be of service to our fellow citizens… sometimes we just have to realize it isn’t always our fault if we can’t make things work. It isn’t always that we aren’t talented enough, or that our ideas aren’t good enough, or that we didn’t work hard enough. Sometimes it’s just that the system is really screwed up.
Yes, I said it: the system is screwed up. There aren’t enough human resources allocated by our society, plain and simple, to bring enough of our theatrical visions to life.
Do I sound like a 1960s refugee? Well, maybe at heart I am. We need to change the system, man!
I’m not saying that every playwright’s every idea should be indulged — believe me, I’m not. That way lies self-indulgent crap, if you ask me. I am saying, however, that there are still too many thoughtful, generous, imaginative, good-for-the-world projects that wither, rather than blooming, for lack of funding. Too many talented artists that just give up and go home, or live less complete lives than they otherwise should, for lack of funding.
That’s why I think all of us, with some part of our hearts, always need to be activists. (Like the folks in my hometown, DC, who are working to protest a plan to start adding a new tax to theater tickets, which will surely hurt our industry.) Why should we settle for a pittance? We deserve more.
More importantly: if the government gave us more, the return on that investment would be tremendous.
In the meantime, though, I hope the thought that at least part of the problem is the system, not the quality of the work we do, offers you the same modest comfort it offers me… as well as the same inspiration to make things better for all of us, by hook or by crook.