Hard Up: The relationship between funding and the arts

MenaceBeach-1

Funding for the arts has always been a hot topic in the music industry, often leading to sharp criticism of the government for not investing enough into our seemingly neglected culture. But is it better if they just let us get on with it? As artist Grayson Perry recently quipped, “rich people don’t create culture”.

It has however just been announced that the Momentum Music fund will be renewed for another year, meaning that emerging artists across the country could receive government grants of up to fifteen thousand pounds each to spend on taking their career to the next level. So it appears the government do care about musical culture, just perhaps not enough.

Previous bands to have benefited from this fund include Jaws, Menace Beach, The Wytches and many others alike, so the money is clearly reaching the right people. But the question is, what happens to it? The main intention is to promote our music overseas, flaunting our often gritty, innovative, and sublime talent to the world. This gives the breaking bands of Britain a crucial chance to get onto stages like South By Southwest, and to ultimately reach wider audiences.

Not bad then… So what if you’re not picked? The Fat White Family resorted to crowd-funding their trip to the annual Austin, Texas event; offering tattoos and massages by way of repayment to fans. In many ways, this seems more imaginative than simply receiving a government grant, but then again, with the amount of stick they regularly give David Cameron, they probably wouldn’t be offered one anyway.

But are the motives of the scheme even in the right place? Speaking on the subject, Trade Minister Lord Livingstone said; “Britannia rules the airwaves and sells more records around the world than any other country”. So is it all about lumping more cash into certain pockets, or are they actually concerned about the spiritual heart of our music industry? Either way, I couldn’t bring myself to criticise the fact that some of my favourite musicians are being given the chance to flourish on the international stage.

You could argue, however, that some of the best music is conceived in places that lack opportunity and wealth. Movements across punk, rap, folk and most any other genre you’d care to mention have proven this time and again. Look at the working class background of The Smiths, a band that were ultimately famed for bashing the Tory rule of Thatcher. So does it queer the deal somewhat if we live in an age where you need a blanket of wealth to be heard within the music industry? That’s perhaps why the government now need to step in and give the talent of the country a leg up in the first place.

So the true question is, are politicians supposed to give a sh*t about our music, or rather be something that art kicks against? If they often face criticism for not supporting the arts then why, when MP Tom Watson sings praise for an underground band like Drenge, does everyone hate it? The answer is probably that a man wearing a suit and tie five days a week is some kind of threat to the raucous nature of an exciting emerging band. I would strongly disagree with people who hold this view. Music, once made, is in the public domain, made for everyone to soak up, whether they’re a postman or politician. We should be pleased when anyone takes pride in exciting new music like Drenge’s; even though it’s odd to think of someone walking into Parliament with ‘Dogmeat’ blasting out of their headphones.

Ultimately though, it’s surely good to have people in power backing great music whatever their job title is. Watson also recently called for BBC 6 Music, a station cherished by alternative music fans across the country, to be promoted to the more popular Radio 3 FM slot. Looking a bit closer to home, it was also great to see Bristol Mayor George Ferguson back The Fleece when the venue was threatened by a block of privately owned flats last year. Sometimes it’s just satisfying to know that people do care.

While the odd bit of cash here and there isn’t simply enough to succeed — considering the amount of venues that are forced to close yearly, there’s a lot more that could be done to secure a successful future of our music scene — I think government funding is a fantastic opportunity for artists, offering the precious chance to reach a wider audience. It’s great that people exist within the realm of politics who do care; let’s hope they’re pro-active in helping.

The deadline for the next Momentum Music Fund is February the 10th.