ORIGINALLY POSTED IN MARCH 2014
The past couple of hours composing a finely wrought, well planned argument in favour of renewed support for adult education and the arts during this difficult economic time has just been lost to the ether... So much for expecting text to remain on screen without pressing 'save' every ten seconds... Let's try again shall we?
I wanted to talk about adult education, and how wonderful it is, and how it was instrumental in bringing about a turning point in my life. I remember saying that if it wasn't for adult education I wouldn't now be a full time glassworker (and I certainly wouln't be sitting here trying to explain it to you). I seem to remember starting by asking everyone to avoid complaint along the lines of "the chain of cause and effect doesn't start at some arbitrary point in history you idiot" when I say it all started in school. I do understand that there is a great deal more to it but the thing I remember most clearly was talking about some of the amazing characters that used to inhabit the education system in this country and I started by saying that I had two fantastic art teachers at school. The first was a cool dude who convinced me that it really doesn't matter whether or not I 'understand' a piece of art as long as I enjoy being in it's presence because art, all art, feeds the soul (unlike shallow, superficial, manufactured fashion). My second fantastic art teacher convinced me that my own art was good enough to support me for the rest of my life (if I worked hard at it). She persuaded me to apply to a good art college and that's where all the real stars of the education system lived. And by 'stars' I mean the kind of truly astonishing personalities you previously thought only existed in the films of Terry Gilliam.
This was the bit where I talked at length about how the character of these people rubbed off on me and forged the character I have become as an adult. I won't re-write it all now. I think I will return to this subject at a later date as I could fill a novel with tales of creative madness and obsession...
Anyway, after what some looney-left-wingers think of as my 'four year council-funded holiday' I settled down to a career as a junior advertising designer in the marketing department of a multinational corporation but in the midst of the daily grind adult education once again came to my rescue. At a local college I took evening classes in sculpture, silversmithing, wheel-thrown ceramics and various other arts & crafts. The main reason for this was that I was a trained designer with a lifelong disposition for the arts and a genuine need to express myself artistically and large corporate monoliths stifle creativity at every turn preferring conformity to corporate guidelines and adherance to standrard practices as a way of suggesting permanence and stability to shareholders. Thirteen years in corporate servitude later and I was made redundant when the head office was moved to Paris and I so I set up as a sales and marketing consultant, since this was the work-life I knew best. At one point I did some work for a company with several large showrooms and in one of these I found a truly beautiful piece of fused glass in several complimentary shades of green by a local glass artist and found myself frantically searching for information about how this amazing craft is achieved.
Once again I found adult education coming to the rescue. I live in a small, north Cornwall, sea-side town so how amazing it was that the very course I wanted to study just happened to be one taught at my local Adult Education centre. The lovely, scatty, Michela Doniselli taught me to cut, assemble, fuse, slump and enamel art glass and then even found me a job in the studio of a well known glassmaker for experience. Unfortunately the last few years have seen a savage reduction in support for the arts (unless you live in the capital) by both central and local government and regional adult education centres have been at the rough end of this particular stick. When I did the glass fusing courses, seven years ago now, the recession was only just beginning and funds were available at our local centre for a new kiln and extra resources abounded. Today those courses are few and far between and the cost to the student has risen while everyone's incomes have stagnated or reduced.
Like Sean Hewitt, my first art teacher back in the late 1970's, I believe that the art we produce as a society is one of the key indicators to the social health of our entire culture. Just look at the way in which we judge the remains of civilisations past; by their wars and by their arts - the paintings, sculptures and literature they left behind. We can not, must not, let our support for the arts be eroded any further. If anything arts funding should be increased in poor economic climates to feed the soul of the nation and reflect our combined outlook for a better, brighter, more creative future.
How will future generations judge our society if we leave behind a big hole where art should be?
Perhaps they will consider this to be the second 'dark ages'?