We Brits can learn a lot from the French, not least how to stage a demonstration in style. When French culture minister Aurélie Filippetti was visiting Guise in June, she was accosted by a group of performers protesting about cuts to their welfare system. But they didn’t bring placards and petitions. No, to prove they were truly vexed they turned up naked, with Filippetti struggling to avert her eyes. Further bare-assed militancy continued to disrupt the summer programme of arts festivals, so I imagine creative workers across the land were glad of the dry and balmy weather.
Can you imagine this happening in Britain? David Cameron shifting in his leather chair with Tracey Emin’s naked bottom on the seat opposite? It seems a natural progression from My Bed after all, and she’d get away with it too by calling it My Art, although she’d probably call it My F*****g Art.
In spite of the success of this country in the creative industries, our politicians have an alarmingly skewed view of arts funding. The Tories made cuts of 36% over the past four years, with Arts Council England plundering the National Lottery to make up the difference. This still leaves a shortfall, with 33 organisations having their funding completely cut this year and 75% of the rest having their funding frozen.
So here’s the thing. In June Cameron attempted to resurrect Blair’s cool Britannia. Remember those 90s publicity shots of Noel Gallagher tickled pink at meeting the PM? Regardless of the subsequent cool slippage of both Gallagher and New Labour, Cameron must have looked back at those rose-tinted honeymoon days and felt a distinct lack of glamour in his own residency. So his second-hand solution was to invite the new generation of creative hipsters to Downing Street, with Benedict Cumberbatch as one of his leading men. But they were having none of it and many didn’t bother turning up. Instead he was left shuffling along with the old-guard, Cilla Black, Bruce Forsyth et al. scraping their zimmer frames across the highly polished floors.
Is this really the best protest we can muster, not pitching up for canapés?
What we really need is some of that French bravura, their willingness to put it all out there, literally. What about a flash mob of ballet dancers outside Downing Street? Or the projected image of Salman Rushdie giving the finger on the Big Ben clock tower?
Take a stand people! Show those dry-eyed decision-makers what it really means to be creative!
And finally, here’s my suggestion for all political parties, whatever your persuasion. You have to support the arts in order to save the arts, and that means more than gorging on other people’s talent and hard graft with a sycophantic party, trigger-happy photographer and fancy nibbles. You need to invest. Not just money, but time, commitment and generosity of spirit.
And if you don’t? Well, there’s always a naked Tracy Emin to persuade you…