Being a UK citizen these days is to swim through a constant tide of Tory propaganda. What used to be a trickle of “public information” has become a flood of messages to cajole, alarm, excite,
threaten and control. We are to be alert. We are to see it, say it and sort it. We are to get going and make sure we are ready. We must rethink, re-skill and reboot. We are to be silent and to
clap on cue. Any train or bus ride, commercial radio station, newspaper, social media feed, bill board and bus shelter tells us so.
It’s exhausting, and deliberately so. The slogans are on the face of it giving us information – how to get our business ready for Brexit, how to ‘be in cyber’, how not to die a miserable lonely death with a tube shoved down the gullet. But it is as much to harness us to the thinking of a narrow English nationalist political endeavour. It is to tell us how we must serve the sunny uplands of “the UK’s new start.” Or to warn of the suspicious, of clandestine threats and do-gooders.
Art serves many purposes. But chief among them is to inoculate against this pandemic of bullshittery.
However, it is fair to say everyone working with culture has had a lot of our own crap to deal with. It is no exaggeration to say what is uncomfortably called “the arts sector” is facing an existential threat. Organisations are already weakened by years of cuts, chasing dwindling trust and foundation grants, and having to maintain buildings which swallow money. Artists have been increasingly marginalised and community practitioners expected to heal a multitude of ills. The lockdown has exposed how precarious the whole ecology already was.
The crisis of income has caused ever greater desperation and fury. Much to the irritation of government, that we are spoiling the vision of Cummings’ happy paradise. But at least for once the real size of the catastrophe got through, and the Culture Recovery Fund was launched.
The round of awards announced on Monday 12th October made it clear was the price tag of support was. It was to co-opt culture organisations in to the tide of government messaging. Recipients were instructed that “In receiving this funding, you are agreeing to acknowledge this funding publicly by crediting the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund”. Note the Government’s recovery. Wording and the obligatory hashtag were issued.
Maybe on the face is that might not seem like much. After all, organisations are used to carrying logos of supporters and thanking sponsors. But we are seeing a step further. The government and Treasury were to be thanked, forelock tugging style. The #HereForCulture hashtag was simultaneously carried by Oliver Dowden, the suitably mandated tweets were promoted by HM Treasury. No doubt eager to cover for the suggestion that the Chancellor had made that musicians should be retraining. Theatres and orchestras were forced in to creating feelgood sentiment around a government that was in fact acting disastrously too little, too late.
A major line has been crossed. The principle in this country has been an arms length relation between government and culture, and the Arts Council is supposed to be a buffer. Not to facilitate PR for Mr Sunak. It’s part of a worrying tendency for this administration to interfere and control. Particularly alarming are Mr Dowden’s culture war style pronouncements on what museums should do with statues or how the Proms should be performing a certain song. We must not be co-opted in to boosting narrow nationalist messaging, let alone trooped out to perform Rule Britannia with sanctioned arrangements and lyrics.
It is desperately hard when we are fighting for our livelihoods and for the means of expression that is so crucial to us and the communities we work with. But we must say we can’t accept being yet another three part slogan. We have to be the vaccine against this infectious ideology.
Loz Kaye 2020
Loz Kaye is a Musical Director and digital rights activist. He is formerly Musical Director of Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus, and Artistic Director of More Music.