Credit: Kevin Grieve via Unsplash

What we lose when we defund the arts

By Karla Calvillo Salinas

Art enriches our lives in countless ways, and we must protect its ability to thrive.

You wake up to your favourite song. You prepare a breakfast you saw in an online video and take time to make it pretty while you listen to a podcast. You pick out your favourite clothes. You walk to the university and pass buildings of different centuries and styles. You take a picture of the trees in the park under the morning autumn sun. You make it to the beautiful university and feel like you’re going to school in a movie. Your professor opens her serious slides with cute pictures of otters. You go to the nicely-decorated cafe, which is such a comfortable place to study. You listen to music while you work. You take the Subway and look at all the posters of upcoming events. You go to the theatre and have a great time watching a play. You decide to read before going to bed. 

Think about all the parts of your day where you encounter art. Artists of all kinds make your routine more interesting: the musicians that recorded your music, the storytellers that host your podcast, the fashion designers that created your clothes, the architects that designed the buildings you walk past, the photographers that took the pictures you look at, the interior designers that set up the cafes you sit in, entire teams of creatives that made the movies and plays you watch, the writers that produce the books you read. How dull our days would be if we didn’t have these artists. But the importance of art goes way beyond these encounters.

Art is the lens through which we learn about people—those that are like us, those that are different, and even our own selves. We study literature, for example, to learn to empathise with people who think differently than ourselves; by reading, we are putting ourselves as close as we can to another person’s point of view, and as we go through a story, we try to understand why the characters do what they do. These skills of putting oneself in another’s shoes can be applied in real life to build better connections with others, and we practised them first by reading. Art may also be the first time we encounter people of different cultures. The first time I heard about the Vikings, the Ancient Egyptians, cowboys, samurais, and many others was through picture books and TV shows. I only initially learned about Scotland because I wanted to find out where a certain fictional magic school was located. Art catches our attention and pushes us to learn about the cultures beyond its surface. We develop that curiosity as kids and carry it into our adulthood, when we realise that the representations of these cultures is often sensationalised and far from perfect, but we now have the skills and the interest to learn about them in deeper and more meaningful ways—all because a nice drawing of a pharaoh caught our eye when we were children.

It is also important, however, to have access to accurate artistic representations of all kinds of people and experiences, and that is only possible if all kinds of people are able to create and share their art. While access to the internet has made it is easier than ever to learn about arts, it is ultimately not the same to watch a video at home, learn on your own, buy all the materials, and promote your art by yourself, than it is to study at an institution where you receive guidance and feedback, where some of the more inaccessible materials are provided, and where you can build a network of other artists that will help you promote and even sell your work. Additionally, many people still consider a degree necessary to give credibility to skills, so graduating from an art program also gives you that extra aid. But, as a previous Glasgow Guardian article explored, the decrease in arts funding of recent years has made it so that people of working class and underrepresented backgrounds have a harder time getting an arts education. All those facing barriers to education don’t have the same advantages and support that come from getting an arts degree, and we as a society miss out on learning from what they have to share.

Cultural values also play a role in STEM, business, and political careers being deemed more important than the arts. Young people are often discouraged from seeking out arts careers because they are generally not as profitable and because they are not considered to contribute as much to the wider society as other professions. But the truth is that artists do provide important services, even though they might not always be as obvious. A doctor will heal you and ensure that you live, whereas an artist will create things that make life worth living. Just think back to the pandemic: how many people you know spent their time watching shows and movies, or decided to learn a new skill (likely an artistic skill)? Many people made it through isolation by interacting with art in one way or another. This is equally true for the everyday—we find comfort in rereading our favourite books, find community going to theatres and museums with our friends, find purpose in the act of creation. Everyone should have access to those feelings. 

The arts are losing funding all over the world because policymakers and investors are downplaying their importance. But stopping to take a closer look will show that the arts are everywhere, enriching our lives in ways that are too important to ignore.


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