Out of the ashes – economic woes provide opportunities for artistic and social creativity

Doomsday predictions of the death of the arts and creative industries outside London have been commonplace in recent months. Cuts in grants to funding bodies such as Arts Council England, and the pressure on local authority budgets, have led to headlines warning of a “cull” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-22868823) and claims that over £100m will be removed from the arts sector (http://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2013/08/arts-face-124m-extra-local-funding-cuts/). This is clearly a major threat to lots of established arts and performance groups across the country, and especially to those which exist primarily to target specific groups or communities as part of social integration or cohesion programmes

However, the economic downturn is also creating opportunities for other individuals and groups to take advantage of vacant premises on high streets throughout the length and breadth of the UK, to showcase their talents to a much wider audience (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-24871292). The use of empty office and retail premises as galleries, studios and performance spaces prevents buildings from falling into disrepair, reduce vandalism, brings vitality and activity to the high street, and allows artists and performers an opportunity to raise their profile and increase their following. It’s a great example of the resilience and opportunism of local people, and offers a model for the local activism that is now increasingly being seen as the only hope for protecting the delivery of local, community-focused services

It is part of the continuum that has seen communities assume responsibility for running their local shops (http://www.plunkett.co.uk/whatwedo/rcs/ruralcommunityshops.cfm), libraries (http://www.marketrasenmail.co.uk/news/local/new-library-plan-to-save-caistor-and-wragby-facilities-1-5710677) and leisure facilities (http://www.ladywoodleisurecentre.co.uk/), amongst other things. These sorts of co-operative enterprises are likely to become even more important as local councils struggle to deliver even the services that they are statutorily required to provide

Nor is this a uniquely British phenomenon. In Greece (where the impact of the worldwide financial crash was felt much more strongly than in many other European countries) there are signs that new models of social action are emerging as the proof of the old saying that necessity is the mother of invention is demonstrated once again

When the financial crisis first hit, there were loud calls for radical changes to the world economic system to ensure that we should never find ourselves in such a mess again. In fact, there has been very little radical change since then – the problems having been explained away as a temporary aberration rather than an inevitable consequence of the economic system. Perhaps the real change will not come as a result of revolution, but rather through the collective impact of many local changes in communities across the world

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