Saturday, 29 January 2011

Chris Port Blog #74. A Message From Central's Principal, Professor Gavin Henderson

Thanks to Professor Gavin Henderson (Central’s Principal) for his masterly clarity and balance. Probably why he’s a professor. Reassuring vision in these muddy times. I agree with his every word.

'There will be alumni who remember similar times - postwar austerity, the three-day week and power cuts of the mid-70s, the recession of the early 80s, and the boom and bust of the early 90s. We came through it all, and as we did so, we aspired to better times and fairer access to that essential ingredient that powers all advances and achievement: education. What is different today is the seismic change taking place in how education will be resourced. There will be huge cuts to Higher Education, but considerable funds will also have to be generated to fund the loans that will supposedly ensure everyone’s right of access to university or specialist college.

The impact of the cuts at Central will be the loss of 100% of our core funding in what is known as ‘Band C’. This will hit all the specialist arts colleges and conservatoires. What we don’t know is whether our extra ‘Exceptional Funding’ will survive. We have to assume that it will. This is a top-up grant which takes account of the very special circumstances facing our sector - equivalent to ‘laboratory status’ (which will be preserved for the so-called ‘STEM’ subjects under Bands A and B, which include Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). Arts and Humanities have been marginalised since they are not viewed as primary engines of the economy. This assumption should be seriously questioned, as one of the most formidable UK economic achievements of recent years has taken place in the ‘creative industries’, in which theatre, in its widest sense, has played a vital part.

Central does not have major industrialists to button-hole the politicians on our behalf as the CBI does for other industry. Many of our sector’s notable protagonists - such as the BBC and the National Theatre - have their own battles to fight. Our world is a tapestry of small-scale enterprises, but we have a level of resilience, determination and passion that many major corporations would love to emulate.

Ironically, art thrives in times of hardship and oppression. We present a mirror to the world; we question the actions of those in power; we stimulate debate; and above all we bring humour and joy to ease the grim realities faced by so many. Theatres are full, though many that depend upon public subsidy are threatened. Theatre, and indeed all the arts, nourish society - and whilst it may seem invidious to translate everything into economic terms, this is the defining issue of the moment. It is important that arts work undertaken in schools, communities, hospitals, prisons and so forth be recognised for its economic impact as well as for its innate social value. Impressive statistics show how much can be saved by preventative medical care, by diminished vandalism, reduction in reoffending, building confidence for the deprived, and enhanced presentational and promotional states in the workplace which engagement in the arts does so much to nurture.

Can we really develop considerably increased levels of private philanthropy to bridge the gap? For Central the principal challenge must be to raise independent funds for bursaries and scholarships for students who may otherwise miss out. Graduates who have gone before and benefited from years of free, or substantially subsidised, education may feel a duty of care and protection for something cherished and too easily lost. Central has good foundations on which to build with confidence. We do not have a deficit, indeed we have reasonable reserves, and our recruitment record is excellent, but we can only build with the support of our wider community … and that community is essentially our alumni, and the contacts and friends who you can bring into our fold.'

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