After Nyne’s Kirsty Morris Welsh on Arts Emergency

Charlotte Tilbury

I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite as angry as I did during Election Week.

On the Thursday night, I vowed not to sleep until the results were in. I hadn’t attempted to stay awake all night since the last days of university – as it turned out, election night was even duller. I drank cup after cup of strong tea, as the results crawled in and pundits exhibited either hand-wringing hysteria or cool indifference over the exit poll. Frustrated by the slowness and relentless speculation, I took my weary, tannin-stained soul to bed at about 4 am.

I woke up to a Tory majority.

At some point on Friday afternoon, disbelief gave way to anger, the sort I hadn’t felt since I was about 17. Throughout my time at sixth form college in Barnsley, I was a dreadlocked, placard-waving, slogan-shouting socialist summer camp attendee. Issues were black and white, and if I wasn’t protesting or marching through London, then I was boycotting something.

By the time I left for university, the coalition government was firmly in place and I was surprised to find my anger subsiding. My political views remained intact, but my inclination to take action lessened as I became increasingly apathetic and cynical.

All this changed on Friday. I suddenly became aware of vast, lavatic lakes of molten rage I’d forgotten existed.

It was around this time that I noticed a photo that comedian and activist Josie Long had uploaded to Twitter – a list of actions she had promised to take in the event of a Conservative majority.

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Fifth on her list is a pledge of devotion to Arts Emergency, a charity co-founded and chaired by Long. Eager for a distraction from the steady diet of despair, BBC news and tea I’d been feeding myself for the past twenty-four hours, I decided to investigate further.

Arts Emergency exists to ‘defend arts subjects as a viable path for anyone, from any background.’ As its website states:

‘An arts degree is not a luxury, these subjects are founded on the conviction that everyone can be educated and that culture is for everyone, but the pressure of university tuition fees and an escalating premium on top jobs mean that many young people will be tempted to play safe. We run an amazing support network that, simply put, creates privilege for those without privilege and gives young people the confidence and connections to aim high.’

Its Alternative Old Boy Network is a ‘practical and creative response to inequality of opportunity in the UK’, seeking to put young people in touch with contacts and mentors from all walks of life.

Their manifesto made my heart soar.
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The more I looked into Arts Emergency, the better I felt. And I wasn’t the only one.

In the aftermath of the election result, the charity received a huge swell of support, with hundreds of people donating and signing up to the network.

At Sunday night’s BAFTA ceremony, actress Jessica Hynes praised the work of Arts Emergency. In her acceptance speech, which was partly cut by the BBC, Hynes stated, ‘I don’t think low income means low talent or low imagination or low intelligence’. She urged people to support Arts Emergency, later adding, ‘the arts is the first thing to go when the cuts and austerity hit’.

Here is something tangible that people can throw their support behind, something concrete they can do to ensure that the arts and humanities do not suffer over the next five years. What’s heartening is not just the fact that such an organisation exists, but also the barrage of interest and support it’s received as a direct consequence of public dissatisfaction with the election result.

In some ways I’ve been lucky. I was part of the final cohort of people who paid a mere £10,122 in tuition fees, rather than the £18,000 asked of students now.

Having spent the past year as an unemployed graduate, I’ve also been part of the final cohort of young people who were entitled to claim Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) indefinitely. Under Cameron’s new government, JSA will be replaced with a Youth Allowance – with a time-limit of six months. Yet another way to make young people feel as though they have failed, when in actual fact it is the system which has failed them and continues to do so.

Can you tell I’m still angry? I expect I will be for quite some time. But, as Josie’s list reminded me, ‘not wallow[ing] in anger or hatred at the unfairness of it’ is job one. Everything else will follow.


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