Unit 1, Part D: The Accessibility of the Arts

One of the main missions of Arts Council England is making sure arts and culture is for everyone.

Whilst this is the theoretical ideal, when put into practice there are many variables that hinder this purpose, and consequently the accessibility of the arts. Some factors that affect arts accessibility include: political, educational, employment, regional, wealth/class and gender. These all effect arts accessibility in various ways, and much of the time the impact it has on arts accessibility much depends on the level of quality within each factor; an inconsistency that needs to be addressed.

The political and financial climate very much affects how much of a presence arts and culture have in our everyday lives. With cuts to arts funding, the relationship the country has to arts and culture is becoming more and more tenuous. The problem is access to the arts cannot remain free and unremitted in the current climate – the lack of funding prohibits this, and this causes all kinds of problems in terms of accessibility. What the current government seems to suggest to the wider community is that whilst the arts are of importance, they are not of necessity and a problem with this view is that it is completely subjective. Some may view the arts as vital whilst others may view them as a mere side note, a luxury. Yet, for the many that do view arts and culture as a vital part of life, the austerity measures put in place that have led to cuts such as closure of local libraries, small theatres and music services, this is a devastating outcome. The rise in fees for many artistic pursuits means that they are less accessible to lower income families. However, as Rachel Cooke's article on entry fees to museums suggests, in 1997 when New Labour made entrance to museums free, the large proportion of people attending still remained educated and middle-class[1]. This suggests that the rise in art fees is just a symptom of a larger accessibility problem and there remains to be other reasons as to why arts and culture are less accessible to the poorer demographic.

It is relatively evident in the education system and current curriculum what sort of priority the arts have in schools and thus the government who decides the curriculum. Dreda Say Mitchell argues; 'It's clear this government doesn't value the arts in schools.'[2] However, it is not quite as clear cut as this. Nicky Morgan, the current education secretary has more recently reinforced her message about the importance of the arts, stating that as well as the core subjects the English Baccalaureate implements (science, English, maths, history, geography and a language) she 'would expect any good school to complement these subjects with a range of opportunities in the arts.'[3] Whilst seemingly positive it is still uncertain where these 'opportunities' lie, and whether if arts subjects are not compulsory they will be taken as seriously as the core Ebacc subjects, particularly in state schools whose budgets may not cover all the 'privileges' the arts have to offer – for it is as much the schools decision to take action as it is the governments. Yet, the crucial significance of the decision not to have arts as a compulsory subject implies that the government may value academia over arts, and this ultimately affects accessibility to the younger generation who don't get a say if they would prefer to focus on drama rather than physics. Evidence displays that artistic practice in schools is declining, for example:

'The report, the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Values, found that between 2003 and 2013 there was a 50% drop in GCSE entries for design and technology, 23% for drama and 25% for other craft-related subjects.' [4]

The report shows that arts are declining, however it is difficult to pinpoint specifically why. Yet, what is apparent is that this needs to be reversed. Arts and culture are important to the education of young people not only to make them more culturally aware but also because fundamentally they are enriching, they facilitate expression, they bring people together and they are a part of education that no maths or science subject can imitate.

However, sometimes we are dissuaded from pursuing the arts at a higher level; at university there is often a bigger push for people to undertake vocational degrees or more 'academic' pathways. There is a discrepancy in the financial incentives for postgraduates to undertake teacher training across different subjects, with as much as £25000 for people with maths, science and language degrees but a trainee with a 2:1 in English, music and other arts subjects would be entitled to £4000[5], which whilst not precisely revealing a problem with the lack of accessibility, it certainly highlights a lack of encouragement to pursue the arts. This extra encouragement is needed when typically the job market in the arts sector is somewhat unstable in terms of both financial stability and job security. Even though the job market in the arts sector benefits from the fact that there is a huge variety of areas to go into, it can also seem somewhat daunting for someone trying to enter it. Therefore, even though the variety within the arts does elevate the breadth of access, there is still no direct route into it.

With all this in mind when we consider the decrease in arts funding and thus the rising cost of the arts, its future prominence in the lives of young people, particularly those from a less wealthy background, seems somewhat bleak. As much as we want arts and culture to belong to everybody, they still, particularly in light of the recent recession, really are most easily grasped by the hands of the rich. You only have to look at the level of arts in private schools compared to state schools to see that this is the case. Whilst arts should not be accessible solely by wealth, there is an essence of it that still is. It does automatically seem that people from richer backgrounds do have more exposure to the arts. Their advantage is that they can afford to spend their budgets - if they have one - on going to see a play, taking part in weekly classes, viewing an exhibition, going to a concert etc. It is these opportunities that fuel interest and give people a sense of belonging to the realm of arts which encouraged further involvement. The arts are open to anyone, unfortunately it is not only down to the situation of the arts, but also the situation of the person wishing to enter it, and this is something that needs to be taken into account to raise accessibility.

As previously stated whilst a high contributor, it is not only the cost of the arts that contribute to them being inaccessible – if everything was free there would still be a multitude of factors which come into play that limit accessibility. If we look at the level of people taking part in the arts and funding on a regional level the discrepancies remain. Whilst factors like location and wealth fuel into and influence one another, they are also single factors that need to be addressed separately. From information published by Arts Council England we can see that funding over the region is disproportionate:

  • London = 243 NPOs, 1 Bridge, £443.8 million investment
  • North = 186 NPOs, 3 Bridges, £211.7 million investment
  • Midlands = 84 NPOs, 2 Bridges, £173.9 million investment
  • South East = 69 NPOs, 3 Bridges, £89 million investment
  • South West = 81 NPOs, 1 Bridge, £59.6 million investment (= £534 million investment outside London)[6]

Most of the funding is directed in London, a centre that is artistically and culturally diverse, however the consequence is that the funding in other parts of the country receive is much less over a much larger area - each area has less than half, some less than a quarter as much arts funding in comparison to London. This lack of equal funding has repercussions on accessibility such as the closure of smaller, local arts companies/organisations because the funding does not reach them.

Yet, there are parts of the country away from London that are thriving culturally. Manchester, for example, is raising its focus on arts provision by hosting The Manchester International Festival due to higher enthusiasm from the city government and people, the city council has invested £2.5 million into the festival and the artistic director for the new interdisciplinary arts centre in the city (HOME) stated that: 'I think it's [Manchester] really becoming an alternative to London.'[7] The great things that are happening with arts and culture in Manchester just goes to show that with the right resources and engagement arts can reach more and more people.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to measure artistic success objectively, both in our approach to it vocationally and leisurely. The success can be viewed on both a personal level and a communal level, and the success in each of these areas is difficult to measure when people hold different values over it. There are many factors that come in to play and it cannot simply be a matter of establishing how many people it reaches, but also the quality and the sustainability. The important thing is that the benefits of the arts should be made as accessible as possible in whichever amount needed. I believe that we should be exposed to arts and culture in our daily lives – even if it is something small like street art or larger events like festivals, it is evident that people do have an intrinsic need for arts and culture, perhaps without even realising. If arts and culture in society are, as figures suggest, declining and if we are encouraged less and less to view the arts vocationally and instead as an afterthought (an extra) to our increasingly busy lifestyles then who knows what will be the future outcome and whether the strength of its presence will be the same. More needs to be done to make the arts accessible, and this access should be regardless of wealth, background, education or location. Everybody should have access to the arts; not only because it belongs to them but also to improve their quality of life, to further diversify and raise cultural awareness and identity. There are many things that are being done to help heighten the accessibility of the arts, Arts Council England have 696 National Portfolio Organisations set up across England who are all helping to strengthen and celebrate the arts at a local and national level. Arts Council England furthermore have 10 Bridges in operation across England who work to help children and young people have a rich experience of the arts within schools and other cultural organisations. It seems that the current state of arts and culture has the potential to go in the right direction and even if its current presence across England is variable, the significance is that arts are there and they can be improved.

Articles/ websites used:













[1] Rachel Cooke . 2015. We should pay to get into museums. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/26/why-get-into-museums-free.

[2] Dreda Say Mitchell. 2015. 'It's clear this government doesn't value the arts in schools.' [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/21/government-arts-schools-michael-gove

[3] Frances Richens. 2015. Nicky Morgan defends her attitude to arts education. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/news/nicky-morgan-defends-her-attitude-arts-education?utm_source=Weekly-News&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Nicky-Morgan-defends-her-attitude-to-arts-education&utm_campaign=17th-July-2015

[4] ... 2015. Arts and Creativity 'squeezed out of schools'. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-31518717

[5] …2015. Get into Teaching. [ONLINE] Available at: https://getintoteaching.education.gov.uk/bursaries-and-funding.

[6] National Portfolio Organisations interactive map, [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/funding/our-investment/national-portfolio-organisations-map/?bridge_orgs_only=1

[7] Christopher Shea. 2015. Manchester Relishes a Growing Artistic Role. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/02/arts/international/manchester-relishes-a-growing-artistic-role.html?_r=0.


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