Recently I was at one of the country’s top music venues to see more than 80 performers of the highest calibre, led by an internationally-acclaimed maestro, in two world-famous English masterpieces and a brand new work that premièred just the night before. Yet the place appeared only a little over half full. What went wrong?
I was in Sheffield City Hall, hearing Mark Elder conduct the Hallé in music by Elgar, Britten and Huw Watkins, (the new work), and I was part of an aging audience. There were young people there, and even the littlest showed rapt attention, but they were a small minority.
Music like this can be enjoyed by everyone, and for little cost, (£5.60 for under-18s and students). The product is excellent, but unfamiliar.
The arts are much less a part of any young person’s experience than they were in the past. We are not making the audiences and creators of the future. As Mark Elder said from the platform, “Without new works, we have no future”, and the same is true of new audiences.
We are proud of the enormous range of cultural activity in Sheffield, but its future is threatened because education in the arts is falling by the wayside.
House of Commons Library research, (quoted in The Observer), shows that the number of art, music and drama teachers has fallen by 3,500 since 2010, with 38,000 fewer hours taught.
The new Arts Council head Nicholas Serota has said “Too many pupils lack access to high-quality cultural education and too few universities ask applicants to show that they have an appetite for the arts and the broader humanities.”
In the coming election, only the candidate that promises to reverse decades of decline and invest in arts education deserves your vote.
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