IT'S no good pretending. From where I’m sitting, the outlook seems bleak for many people across the North East. A cold wind is blowing. Shut your eyes and it could be the 1980s all over again.
All that abstract talk of austerity has hardened into the prospect of actual closures and redundancies.
We may – and most likely will – lose libraries, galleries, swimming pools and other things that help to make life more than just getting from day to day.
Arts organisations face the prospect of a triple whammy with public funding from national and local sources under threat and a potential audience with less money to spend as the cuts continue to bite.
Where today differs from the Thatcher decade, at least in the cultural sector, is that we have a cultural sector.
Mines, shipyards and other mass employers were swept away in the 80s and the North East started to build a reputation in another field, what are often called the creative industries.
My 13-year-old son fancies a job in the burgeoning computer games industry. This is no pipe dream. Jobs actually exist in this industry and it has a significant foothold in the North East.
Guess what he has been told – that proficiency in art is valued by those who recruit in this area.
The arts, which local authorities have no statutory obligation to support, are not just frivolous fun. They do make our lives brighter but they are also fertile ground for employment.
Lee Hall, who has spoken out angrily against library closures, sees himself as a writer. But a side effect of his brilliance has been jobs for many. Billy Elliot has been employing people for more than a decade and throwing up opportunities for thousands of stagestruck youngsters.
Likewise Sting, who cut his teeth gigging around Tyneside, and Antony Gormley, whose career took wing after Gateshead commissioned The Angel of the North.
Sarah Millican, too, is repaying the faith shown in her when she began her small gigs around the North East. And as for Cheryl Cole, once a budding dancer on Tyneside, well, where to start?
Small money invested in the arts can reap huge rewards.
All is not lost – yet. There is still more culture than we can accommodate in Culture and long may that continue.
So be cheered by Sarah, our cover girl, look forward to the Festival of the North East and have the best festive season you possibly can.
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