Supporting the Arts

If I were to ask you “life - what’s it all for?” you’d agree that would be a fairly big question. But though it might have been tackled for millennia by innumerable thinkers rather more qualified than me, I’m going to take a stab.

Have a look around you. Witness all these wondrous creations of humanity. What do they have in common? Pretty much all we create is functional. It has a specific purpose. It is useful just to us.

If all of humanity were to evaporate in a puff of smoke tomorrow, practically everything left behind would be useless. My coffee mug, laptop and chair; everything from ocean liners to bin liners would be redundant.

Except one thing. The Arts. These are not confined to ourselves. Unlike laptops they have objective value and exist beyond pure utilitarian functionality.  They are, if you like, the only product of humanity. So they’re pretty important.

But what do the arts do for us? Let’s take music as an example. Research, including a highly comprehensive study by the German Socio-Economic Panel in 2013, shows that music improves cognitive and non-cognitive skills more than twice as much as sports. Children who take music lessons have better school grades and are more conscientious, open and ambitious.

Music improves reading and verbal skills, and improves exam grades across the curriculum. It raises IQ, encourages listening and helps children learn languages more quickly.

It strengthens the motor cortex and improves working memory and long-term memory for visual stimuli.  It helps people to manage anxiety, enhances self-confidence, self-esteem and social and personal skills. It even slows the effects of ageing, which has to be good.

No surprise, it also encourages creativity, but learning a musical instrument also encourages team building and these effects are not only felt by the pupils, but by schools and the wider community. Finally, music also improves mathematical and spatial-temporal reasoning

When you consider that these skills are vital in any life and career, it's fair to say that young musicians have the kind of advantages we need to give everyone.

Times have been financially immensely tough for some years. County councils have been at the sharp end of enormous pressures and have had to look closely at all spending in order that we live within our means and keep the show on the road. I very much understand these constraints and am hugely sympathetic to both their position and intentions. But I believe cutting arts funding is a false economy.

Apart from culturally impoverishing people, it misses the extraordinary fact that every penny spent on the arts is repaid tenfold.

As an arts graduate myself, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Music and vice-chair of the APPG for Music Education, as someone who sits on the boards of the National Youth Orchestra, Music for Youth UK and Music Youth Theatre UK, this is a subject which matters to me.

As Sophocles pointed out some years ago, “Whoever neglects the arts when he is young has lost the past and is dead to the future.” Nothing’s changed.