GP Taylor: Death by cuts for this creative nation

IT is not every day that you can say that you discovered the secret of the universe whilst sitting in the glorious Tea Rooms in Lockton village. It was a welcome sit down in the middle of the grand tour of North Yorkshire Open Studios weekend that had taken me from Helmsley via Gillamoor, Lastingham and on to Whitby.

I had seen some of the finest art on display in workshops and back rooms created by local artists. A chance conversation with the owner of the tea rooms about Fibonacci mathematics and its place in art at first seemed out of place. It was only when I found out that she was not only an artist, but also a former teacher, that things took shape.

It had not been the first time that I had heard of the slow and painful cuts to funding the arts in schools. It seemed that successive governments had downgraded anything artistic to nothing more than a hobby. The arts, music and drama were a non essential add on and of no real use in “proper” education. Libraries were being turned into learning centres and books replaced with computers. In Yorkshire alone, 500 projects relating to young people and the arts are at risk of Tory cuts.

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It was Michael Gove, the former Education Secretary, who said: “Good qualifications in English and maths are what employers demand before all others. They are, quite simply, the most important vocational skills a young person can have. Young people must be able to demonstrate their understanding of these subjects.”

Those words were the death knell to the arts in schools. What matters to politicians like this are the nuts and bolts of education, the boring and the mundane.

Schools are to be seen as exam factories where students are taught exactly what they need to pass a test and then enter a workplace. Gone are the days when education was producing people with a thirst for learning and broadening of their horizons.

Growing up on a council estate to working class parents who battled hard to provide for the needs of the family meant that any form of artistic expression was limited.

The arts, theatre and cinema were for another type of person. They were seen as the domain of the middle classes and not for the likes of us.

Yet, one painting changed my life. The Lady of Shalott by John Waterhouse hung on the wall of my classroom. I would see it every day. The beauty of the woman fascinated me and I fell in love with her. What started as a mild interest soon became an obsession about pre Raphaelite art, poetry and then gothic literature. Not the usual reading matter of a kid from a council house.

For me, the arts became a doorway to another world. They increased my thirst for knowledge and were the steps to changing my life for the better. I therefore get wildly angry when politicians want to stop young people learning about beauty and creativity.

What right do they have to deny children from the joys of painting, writing, dancing and singing?

To me these are just as important as English or maths. It is subjects like this that make the person. They give us an understanding of beauty and joy, both valuable assets to have in a sometimes ugly world.

When it was suggested to Winston Churchill that the arts budget should be cut and the money given to the war effort he responded by saying: “Then what would we be fighting for?”

Such wise words from a great leader. So why is it that a Tory government see the arts as the black sheep of education?In my opinion it is because they have failed to understand the importance of art, music, drama and writing within our culture. They cannot see that the arts are a multi-billion pound industry and that they enrich society.

We are a creative nation and instead of cutting funding, it should be increased. Every child in this county should have the opportunity to be creative in some way. It is a proven fact that having writers and artists in schools has a beneficial effect on pupils and staff alike. Art changes the environment in which we live and gives pleasure to millions.

It is now time for the Tory government to stop sidelining the arts. Serious investment has to be made and the importance of the arts reflected in the school curriculum. Education is about opening the mind and thrilling the soul and not just counting numbers and ticking boxes.

GP Taylor is a writer and broadcaster and can be followed @gptaylorauthor. North Yorkshire Open Studios can be found at http://www.nyos.org.uk. Many studios will be open this weekend 10.30am to 5.30pm.