Bring me sunshine, in your smile…
With the Arts Council's funding decisions revealed, Gail Brown considers what role protests and protestors might play in future grant-making policies.
Taking to the streets: campaigning or creating chaos?
Morecambe and Wise may well have been onto something in their approach to comedy and to life in general. Although both suffered their darker times, they managed to invigorate generations of audiences. Part of their charm was in ending every show with the now infamous song Bring me Sunshine and you can’t help but bob along to the music. There is something light about it, something child-like and something entirely innocent.
At the end of March London was a dignified witness to over 250,000 people peacefully marching against cuts to education. It was the largest demonstration since a series of rallies against the Iraq war in 2003. Unfortunately there was also a small breakaway group that smashed its way into a bank, broke windows and spray-painted tags and logos onto walls and police vehicles. To top it off a black-clad (fashion originals, clearly) group of protestors threw paint bombs and ammonia-filled light bulbs at the police (that sort of imagination needs to be put to better use). What does this approach to demonstrating your feeling really achieve? Who exactly do these ninja wannabes think is going to pay for the damage? Do you think they woke up the next morning and thought, “I did something amazing yesterday. I contributed, I made a difference”?
At the same time as more money is being found to pay for this level of damage, the cultural sector is finding out what the future holds as Arts Council England (ACE) reveals what was its regionally funded organisation investment portfolio, now named the national portfolio organisations. In January this year Alan Davey, ACE’s chief executive, addressed the House of Commons culture, media and sport committee saying that he thought ACE will fund 750 organisations as part of their national portfolio, 100 fewer than at present and considerably less than the 1,340 which applied. It seems likely that some of the organisations that don’t achieve investment will fold. The council’s chair, Liz Forgan, someone that might benefit from starting the day by listening to a spot of Morecambe and Wise, shared her view that there will not be “equal pain for everyone”. What a lovely reassuring sentiment that is; arts organisations can warm their cockles with that one.
As to which organisations will be part of the national portfolio, this was announced on 30 March. If it was doom and gloom for your organisation the only appeal decision will be through the process of judicial review. If it was hurray for us, what will ACE expect in return? Watch this space.
There are good examples of organisations which have an exemplary mixed portfolio of income; investment coming from a variery of funds, trusts and donations. The National Youth Theatre of Great Britain, for example (at the time of writing a regionally funded organisation) only relies on ACE for 9% of its overall budget. This is healthy, ambitious and shows a model that should be shared with the sector.
If the all-in-black fashion brigade continue to decimate the streets of London they will cost Britain a lot more than the removal of tags and a bill for popping some police vans through the car wash as this government will almost certainly value property over free speech. If 250,000 can demonstrate their belief systems peacefully, with care and dignity, shouldn’t others be able to follow? What are the differences in achievement, if we walk side by side in quiet and contemplation rather than thwacking the life out of reinforced glass and purposefully planning to bring pain to another human? Who goes home feeling that they have achieved more?
So comrades, brothers and sisters, friends, fellow voters and completers of the 2011 census, the next time you feel that you want to demonstrate your belief system take a moment to ponder what are the ways in which change is made. What are the ways in which we feel we have made a difference? Who are the people to spend the time with to achieve this difference without hate, prejudice or harm?
At the next peaceful rally the UK finds itself witness to someone would do well to bring a little sunshine into the day and channel Morecambe and Wise by playing this little ditty:
Bring me Sunshine, in your smile…
Bring me Laughter, all the while,
In this world where we live, there should be more happiness,
So much joy you can give, to each brand new bright tomorrow,
Make me happy, through the years,
Never bring me, any tears,
Let your arms be as warm as the sun from up above,
Bring me fun, bring me sunshine, bring me love.
Bring me Sunshine, in your eyes,
Bring me rainbows, from the skies,
Life's too short to be spent having anything but fun,
We can be so content, if we gather little sunbeams,
Gail Brown is chair of advocacy and research for the National Association of Local Government Arts Officers
For previous columns by Gail Brown visit the comment page
The Leisure Review, April 2011
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