The creative industries. The arts. Events and nightlife. Call them what you want, but at the end of the day what we’re talking about is FUN. Music, film, TV, theatre, radio, galleries, big nights out – these aren’t just job sectors, they’re the reason we work in the first place. They’re how we socialise, how we express ourselves, how we make sense of the world.
COVID-19 has taken a sledgehammer to arts and culture in the UK, and while the government’s rescue package will come as a lifeline for some, things have been on the rocks for a long time. How many beloved venues have you seen bulldozed to make room for another block of luxury flats? ‘Fund Our Fun’ is a series that goes beyond the industry’s economic contributions to tell the stories of how arts and culture impact our lives in immeasurable ways.
The first time I hung out with my girlfriend, we spent a good few hours chain-smoking on her bedroom floor and choosing records, just as we would countless times into the future.
“No this one, let’s play this one,” we’d say alternately, grabbing at Peaches or CSS or Sleigh Bells with the enthusiasm of a ten-year-old with a pick-n-mix scoop. Once the records ran dry, we switched to YouTube. “Can I just play this one thing?” one of us would say, turning up the volume, then turning it down again when her flatmate complained, smoke making spirals between our faces.
This wasn’t the first or last time I’d spent a night listening to music like this – intimately, with one other person. In fact, nearly all of my treasured memories are like this. The time my best mate and I came back from the club and danced to Ciara in my bedroom until the sky was tinted rose-peach; in a tent with my high school friends, playing Grace Jones out a tinny Blackberry speaker, shivering in the dark; the year I got inexplicably into Motorhead and a friend and I would mosh around her sofa, our feet making loud, delirious thuds across the carpet in place of words.
Much of the recent mainstream discourse around “the arts” – a broad descriptor which seems to encompass anything made for the sake of pure expression and human emotion – seems to position them as an “added bonus”, an extra treat which we deserve only when the “real stuff” is ticking along nicely. Nowhere is this attitude summed up more succinctly than when Rishi Sunak inferred that artists and musicians ought to retrain in other jobs. The message was clear: the arts are a luxury, therefore they’re disposable. But for me and so many others, “the arts” are the “real stuff”. Without them, what is there left really?
If I scrub “the arts” away from my memories – music, festivals, gigs, clubbing etc – what I’m left with is close to nothing important. I made nearly all of my close friends through situations linked to the arts. And even those I didn’t – through work, for instance, or uni – those friendships have been solidified and nourished through bonding over music, film, books. At the risk of sounding sickeningly sincere, it is the glue that has held all our lives together, the pulse that beats beneath everything. If it wasn’t for the arts, I’d probably have no mates and zero community. I am obviously not the only one who feels this way.
It’s now been around eight months since I’ve seen any live music. My flatmates are in a band, so the closest I’ve got so far is listening to them rehearse, pressing my ear against the wall and imagining being covered in beer and other people’s sweat. On quiet days we stick on records, we play Madonna’s American Life while cooking dinner, we shut the curtains and watch David Lynch movies followed by The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills when words fail us. The arts have been as crucial to post-pandemic life as they were in the Before Times. They still keep my relationships together, my mind in sync with other people’s, my connections with others watered and fed and floating above ground.
The slow decimation of the arts throughout the pandemic – the lack of adequate support for artists, for venues, for those who work in creative sectors, the idea that artists ought to retrain – feels like more than just “a shame” or an unfortunate byproduct. It’s the decimation of community, of pals, of the thing that connects many of us together and connected many of us together in the first place. Without the arts, what we have left is miles and miles of blank space.