Today, Better Nation’s first guest blog, written by Mairi Sharratt. Mairi is a poet who blogs at, and can be found on Twitter here.

I Value The Arts badgeTalks of cuts are the theme for the year, perhaps even the next few years, and everyone wants to know where the cuts are going to be made.

Notice how the political discussion has now completely moved away from the bankers’ responsibility and a Robin Hood Tax to how people will be paying.

So at the moment every organisation and charity is fighting to keep its funding, and it looks like, if predictions are correct, that we are going to see a widening of the already great chasm that is the gap between rich and poor. Not just in wealth but also in education and health outcomes too.

Out of all of the organisations that are fighting against cuts, movements to save arts funding is one of the ones I have most problems with. As a declaration of interests I am moderately successful as a poet, with a few publications and anthologies under my belt. I know many writers and creative people who have benefited from funding and if I was to be offered funding so I could write full time, I would take it.

However, my problem is not with the funding of the arts themselves, but the arguments put forward to defend them. For a long time any argument defending cuts in arts was based on the facts that arts “enrich” us. This is always a difficult argument, as how we consume culture and what culture we chose to consume is mixed up with our identity. Therefore if someone sees the arts as purely highbrow and views themselves as a low brow type of person they will not be persuaded by this argument – which could be seen as a failure of the arts to define themselves as all-encompassing.

Bring out recent research, however, that shows how much the arts add to the economy, and you have a much stronger way to persuade those who don’t believe in their inherent value. However, I am left worried by this new strand of defence. Mainly because I firstly see nothing wrong with the fact that not everyone likes or appreciates your work (did I mention I’m a poet?) and secondly, I believe that it could fundamentally weaken the arts in the long run.

We are told that it is proved that the arts now add to the economy, and that is one of the reasons why funding should continue. Where does this leave arts organisation that don’t add to the economy? There are a lot out there doing great work, such as ArtLink who work with people who experience disadvantage and disability, Art in Hospitals and other organisations who assist artists and writers to work with inmates in prisons. I imagine it is pretty hard to make an economic argument for these organisations, although you can definitely make a social and wellbeing one.

If the economic impact argument is accepted and there are further rounds of cuts, how will arts organisations who have no discernable economic impact defend themselves? They are essentially left weaker than their more profitable cousins. Another fact that backs up the economic arguments for the arts is that “eight out of ten of the top visitor attractions in the UK are museums”. That’s great, but are those eight museums all concentrated in one or two areas of the country? Are they all exhibiting work and buying it on an ongoing basis from contemporary British artists, photographers, sculptors, writers and others? I think the answer is probably no.

My fear is that in making a virtue of the economic impact of the arts we leave the part of the arts that cannot demonstrate direct economic benefits weakened and vulnerable, and that is likely to be the ones that have real social benefit for those who access them and for artists who are at important points in their development. Organisations such as Save the Arts are of course still arguing that the arts fundamentally enrich our lives, however I worry that if the discourse on the usefulness of the arts starts to focus on its economic value, and that this is accepted by the majority of people as the arts’ primary raison d’être, then we come one step closer to being a society that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.