As I sit and type this, the streets of Nottingham are swelling.
From every home, school, hospital and shop, swathes of people are evacuating into the sunlight, moving as one long snake in the direction of West Bingford
From across the UK, the motorways are clogged with coaches ferrying people with gritted teeth and eyes ablaze.
By this afternoon, County Hall, home to Nottingham City Council, will be nothing but ash.
Ok…maybe that’s hyperbole. But us artists are allowed to indulge in exaggeration.
The truth is, despite petitioning and consultation-ing, Nottingham’s Labour City Council are still proposing 100% funding cuts to Nottingham Playhouse.
In response, My Theatre Matters has called an emergency protest kicking off in 10 mins (10am 27/2/2014) at the base of the Council, County Hall.
Now, I don’t claim to understand the in-and-outs of the issue. I have never seen a show at the Playhouse. But I have seen their Youth Theatre perform, and know several people who work for them. But a theatre is a theatre.
I’m also aware of the fact theatres across the UK have been cut, some by 80%, and as far as I’m aware no big demonstration has been called for each individual issue, cut and building. 100% is certainly an eye-catching headline.
I’m also very aware My Theatre Matters has a focus upon buildings and NPOs. Emerging artists, unfunded organisations and groups who work with in the arts with community groups don’t always fall within it’s remit. It feels like My Funded Theatre Building Matters.
I don’t want to knock My Theatre Matters though. On it’s behalf Sam West gave an inspiring speech which will stay with me all my life. I managed to record it on my Dictaphone (it’s online here https://soundcloud.com/henryrabypoetry/sam-west-at-york-theatre-royal)
So I prefer the term Our Arts Matter. Because they do. They matter so much. Of course I’d say that, I work in the arts. I could ramble on about the need for arts in our lives as nourishment, engagement and wellbeing. But on the face of it…it’s about having fun. Because the world we live in demands soullness 9-5 work. Work steals from us. The notion of work for capital is mathematic. Input energy & time, output is money.
Art requires time, energy, concentration, emotions, investment and from that…who knows? The output is undetermined. It could be nothing. Some art is rubbish. It could be life-changing. Some art changes lives. It could save lives. Art should save lives.
But I want to unpack the tactics of defending the arts. Because we’ve tried to defend the NHS, we’ve tried to stop workfare, stop the Bedroom Tax, stop the rise in tuition fees, privatisation of prisons, police and education. We’re trying to stop Frakking. But we’re failing. We really are.
The My Theatre Matters call-out said the demonstration would be ‘friendly’. I don’t feel very friendly. I feel really really angry.
A lot of people have aversion to ‘violence’. Official protests are patronisingly marketed as ‘peaceful’. There are many forms of violence. Sometimes to inanimate objects. Sometimes violence means attitude, energy, language. Sometimes protest needs to intimidate. Protest needs to be spikey at the very least. Protest is…protest!
The arts need to stop petitioning and requesting. We even need to stop demanding. The tactic of peacefully or friendly-ish-ly requesting councils and government to keep funding is not effective.
“NOBODY IN THE WORLD, NOBODY IN HISTORY, HAS EVER GOTTEN THEIR FREEDOM BY APPEALING TO THE MORAL SENSE OF THE PEOPLE WHO WERE OPPRESSING THEM” – Assata Shakur
I wish I could be there right now in Nottingham. I don’t know how many people show up or how long it will last. But I want to be physically there, talk with people, feel angry with people. The arts is about connection, sharing a story or idea with actors and an audience.
This week, I attended No Boundaries conference run by Pilot Theatre, Watershed and the Arts Council about the state of the arts & culture. While some of the speakers made great points, it was in little break-out sessions and open spaces people really got angry and intense, discussions about radicalism, activism and how we can make change. Unfortunately, these chats never had chance to get very far with limited time and attendees.
The tactic of “march, strike occupy” is not working. No matter how many (or how few) the TUC call, the ConDems are winning, and we cannot rely on Labour councils. As much as I believe there are those in the Labour Party at the grassroots hoping for real change, I’m afraid I cannot place faith in the Labour Machine.
Can the arts help rewrite this narrative? Can the arts create new forms of protest and civil disobedience? Can the arts help unite people, communities and sweep away apathy where before Trade Unions and activist networks simply lack the resources or appeal?
I don’t have any answers really. Just throwing ideas around.
But come on everyone…at least let’s not be friendly about it.