Cultural renewal implies growth and regeneration. The pandemic and Brexit provide a perfect opportunity to re-structure and re-charge culture in the UK, levelling up areas that have been left behind and building on the communities that have been vital to so many throughout the last 10 months.
I propose that new cultural renewal hubs are set up across the country, most especially in deprived areas, that can act as focal points to boost cultural activity in these regions. The remit of these hubs would be to distribute funds more locally so as to support local art and local regeneration. Their purpose would be threefold. First, they would provide educational sessions in local primary and secondary schools, demonstrating art, instruments, popular music, the artistic opportunities of technology and other activities that focused on unique local interests and talent. They could also provide after-school help for choirs and local youth orchestras, something previously provided by local council music services, but cut in Cameron-era cuts.
Second, they would redistribute the generous cultural funds provided by the government to create art. However, instead of funding institutions, the funding would be targeted to actual artists and musicians and ask them to produce new work that represents the UK. This would combat the lack of inspiration that lockdowns have produced and create a post-Brexit boost of new musicians and artists to fill the institutions that were saved by the generous Cultural Renewal Fund. This takes its inspiration from the Public Works Project (PWAP) announced as part of the New Deal in post-depression America. Artists were directly funded by the state to produce art and were asked to focus on the ‘American scene’. In total 3,749 artists were hired, and 15,663 works of art were produced. The artists were paid a modest wage and was relatively inexpensive given the massive post-depression cultural renewal it produced. This could be recreated in the UK and could be time-limited to coincide with the Festival of Britain 2022. The opportunity it could create for artists and musicians across the UK would be enormous, helping to level up the country, provide inspiration for young artists of the future, and renew a distinctive cultural Britishness that would mark the new age of a truly global Britain.
Third, the hubs could provide a database and meeting point for local artists that could collaborate with each other and provide a community in which to express ideas. This takes its inspiration from the Society of Finish Composers who provide a community for all professional musicians in Finland. The community creates a valuable opportunity to discuss and create works and brings the community closer together. As a result, Finland boasts one of the highest compositional outputs compared to its population size in the world and is internationally famed for its standard of musical collaboration and modern composition.
These hubs would be centrally organised by Arts Council, England, showcasing the fantastic institution this is and Nicholas Serota’s new term as head. Crucially, however, they must be granted a certain amount of operational independence that can allow them to focus on local issues and local talent. This cultural devolution can bring the UK closer together under a common sprit and community values. The advantages of such a project for the UK and the current government are immense. It would combat the idea that the government doesn’t care about cultural industries, something I know not to be true. The post-Brexit touring issues have made many in the industry incandescent with rage and a public works project on this scale would show this government knew the importance of culture in post-Brexit Britain. It would also inspire communities that are not traditionally included in art and cultural education, combating the cutting of the performing arts BTEC. The project would create a British cultural distinctiveness that could showcase national renewal.
Crucially, this idea is fairly practical to implement and wouldn’t need to be expensive. Much of the infrastructure for a project of this kind would just need to be revitalised from the local council music services of the past and could be set up through local artistic leaders. It would rely partially on voluntary service, asking artists that are financed through the Public Works Programme to also help in the educational aspect of the hubs. In return for the state funding their art, they should be happy to give back to the community around them. Little new funding is needed, it is more about restructuring the system to devolve responsibility to communities that can create local, and simultaneously national, works of art. This idea could create a new national cultural voice that is the product of collective responsibility, a trait found across the country during this pandemic. It could drive cultural renewal and fill the world-beating institutions that have been skilfully preserved.