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 Award-winning business author and broadcaster

Leadership trainer and coach

Keynote speaker

  • Writer's pictureAudrey Tang

If the arts can't sustain themselves, it's clear no-one wants them right!?

Updated: Mar 19


Well, ok, there is SOME truth in market forces. If something is not successful, people vote with their feet, and it means you go back and start again...but if that argument is used to justify defunding the arts, and cutting grassroots arts programs in particular - there is a mistake of the gravest proportions.

The increasing role of the charity

Long wait for mental health services - try a mental health charity. Need respite care but there's nothing available in the area - try a charity. Support and advice because you keep being passed from person to person - charity again! Even funding projects - with councils overspending on things which have also proved to be unsustainable (and yet good money continues to be thrown after bad) - try a charity! Why? Because charities get funding from people like you and I; they get grants from benefactors; they get sponsorships from corporate organisations...and they - they charity - are picking up the pieces because the established organisations can't/won't/don't know how to cope!

I'm NOT saying things are easy - of course they are not, with the rising cost of living, the emergence from the pandemic which changed so much, the wars going on around us...but we're ALL in the same storm and it makes me so angry when I hear that consumer costs are rising because businesses who are turning a profit are saying that "everything is going up".

But if no-one will pay for the arts, except a charity, it's because no-one wants them

The first point I want to make is that the point of charity is that the beneficiaries are able to have both access and opportunity that otherwise would have not been possible...and who knows where that can lead. With regards to arts funding - especially for grassroot projects - it is about funding opportunity and accessibility to give the chance for sustainability in the long run. So people aren't coming to see "The 13th Warrior" (top of the Wiki list of Box Office Bombs") - fine...but unless you make it how will you know it will fail?

THAT is what grassroots organisations will do, and that is completely different to established projects and groups. And grassroots projects cannot often afford to fund themselves - except through fundraising or donations, because they want the beneficiaries to benefit fully.

THAT is what you are taking away when you take funding from grassroots projects and organisations.

You're no longer planting grass.

"I can't even afford to go to an am dram production" (a mother explaining why she wasn't able to take her children to see a show)

"I can't charge the mum's they have barely enough to live" (Community project founder on a project to preserve heritage and language"

...and then I hear on the radio "Well things change and if no-body wants it then there's the message"...yes, but only IF the opportunity was there to reject in the first instance!

The intrinsic value of the arts

"Arts programs have been shown to have numerous benefits on social inclusion and wellbeing, particularly for marginalised groups. They have the power to promote social inclusion by providing a space where individuals from diverse backgrounds can come together to connect, collaborate, and learn from one another. For instance, a community theatre production may involve individuals of varying ages, abilities, and cultural backgrounds working together to create a shared artistic experience. Such projects can foster a sense of belonging and cultivate mutual understanding between participants, thus breaking down social barriers and reducing feelings of isolation.
Participation in arts programs can also help boost confidence and open doors to opportunities that may otherwise be inaccessible. This newfound confidence can create a world of opportunities for these individuals, empowering them to pursue further education or employment in the arts, or to simply become more active and engaged members of their communities.

(CLICK Arts Foundation website

I have spoken before of my own experience as a drama teacher of seeing people otherwise "written off" by school, flourish when involved within a theatre project because it gave them the chance to be part of something, to be praised, to be seen.

Arts are also preventative for ill-being

Being involved within an arts project brings a sense of community - a sense of being a valued member of a team, and that is something desperately needed, especially in deprived communities. Research has shown that a lack of engagement in community opportunity can lead to involvement in gangs and criminal activities and also that involvement in creative pursuits can help with self expression and in turn improve mental health and positive engagement with society. (The Mental Health Foundation)

I return to my earlier point - if government resources are already stretched in terms of reaction and response, then surely funding projects which might relieve the pressure on organisations is a good way forward?

Arts can teach and thus break down barriers

It is not only communication between those engaged within the arts that can improve - because there is no greater leveller than facing an audience on opening night together as a company!; but messages conveyed through artistic projects can also provoke discussion and broader learning. It's not just escapism, but an opportunity to make people think.

A Youth Music charity, Notivate ( recognised that "If a young person explains their problem they are STILL sometimes not heard, BUT if they put it into a song, suddenly they are listened to." As a psychologist in the area of wellbeing, being able to express feelings and emotions through dance, song, or other creative forms can be hugely beneficial as a safe and healthy coping mechanism.

A piece of art can also give us a common reference point where we can learn more about each other and ourselves by talking about "That moment when..." rather than simply "Do you personally ever..."

The arts can feel elitist and inaccessible UNLESS we keep the doors open

In my studio Wellbeing Media Studio we hold the front window space for Bedford Creative Arts/POP Bedford projects which showcase local artists. What this does is not just give the artist an opportunity to have their work seen - and perhaps even purchased, but it gifts art to the community who might otherwise not visit a gallery. I come back to - how do you know it's not for you unless you've had the opportunity to try it? Isn't that what parents always say too!?

Sustainability is important long term

I fully agree that after the opportunity is given, then it is up to the project to prove its worth - whether it is through appealing to generous benefactors or sponsors, or finding ways to fundraise or at least replenish what was spent. A very simple business model that kept me going for 30 years was to fundraise for my first production, and then fund subsequent ones through ticket sales...we even had £50 spare to donate to a local charity first time out! Maybe that's not going to grow, but it is going to self sustain.

The projects we fund as new charity CLICK Arts Foundation also need to show sustainability longer term. We're there with grants of up to £2000 twice a year for grassroots projects, because we care about getting you off the ground and we know it's not cheap! And we need to sustain ourselves too - so we have our own fundraisers and projects, as well as dedicated social media to establish our presence.

So when funding is removed because of cost saving I believe there is a nuance that isn't being addressed - once you have established, you take responsibility for sustainability, and maybe - proving your worth; but when grassroots projects take collateral damage we need to rethink. Their intent is very different - they are about bringing opportunity and accessibility and potentially huge benefits in the first instance to someone whose life could have been very different without it.

From our own actors from CLICK Productions, now CLICK Arts Foundation:

"Doing the shows for me gave me confidence to push myself outside of my comfort zone and just give new things a go without feeling silly. The buzz of the actual show week was amazing and no matter how bad my days had been at work the show nights were a great way to forget everything."

"Working with Audrey is a joyful experience, her kindness & encouragement gave me the confidence to be brave..."

“Keeping 17 teams going I've been covering all number of shows…It’s been tougher than others I've done but I wanted to thank you for helping me remain calm and work with the talent I've got…and helping me be me."

To donate to CLICK Arts Foundation:

Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and award-winning business author. She runs Wellbeing Media Studio, hosts Mental Health Matters on e360tv, and produces Skits and Quibbles: the arts and wellness show on the same network via her studio. She delivers training and keynotes in the area of wellbeing in leadership and organisations, and shimmies her stuff on the dance floor every Wednesday teaching Burlesque.

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Lamb Herman
Lamb Herman

Because charities get funding from people like you and I; they get grants from benefactors; they get sponsorships from corporate organisations backrooms game

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