Nicola Biggerstaff – 28th July 2022
Last week, I wrote about my experience at Doune the Rabbit Hole with Common Weal, and the positive experiences I took with me from my first ever festival. Unbeknownst to me, this was so moving to some of my colleagues that Robin even felt compelled to write a follow up on why we find ourselves so euphoric in such settings. I would recommend the read, as it does relate to why I feel so compelled to write about the impact of my experience once again.
Feeling a physical weight being lifted off my shoulders in such an environment, I came back with a clarity of mind which my body, still fatigued from my brush with Covid, so desperately needed. But I am not an exceptional case, there are so many others out there who could benefit from such an experience on a physical and mental level, but are being priced out or otherwise limited by, well, everything. And while it has been proven that spending time out in nature can relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression, it would be hypocritical of me to use this space to recommend some low-cost, easily accessible outdoor activities, after lauding about my ability to freeload my way into a festival through my job.
So, this leaves me with the other aspect of my perfect weekend which filled me with so much joy. The music, the performances, the laughter. Everyone should have access to the arts in their life, so how do we make these experiences more accessible?
Access to the arts has not always been as notoriously expensive as it is today. With tickets for an original Shakespeare production costing from as little as a penny back in his day, many theatres were accessed and enjoyed by all sections of society, with ticket prices on a sliding scale which catered to all budgets and lifestyles. How far away would you like to sit from the ‘great unwashed’? There’s a seat for that. Would you like that seat cushioned? One extra penny, please.
Nowadays, while the concept of sliding scale pricing has not changed, the affordability certainly has. I was so exceptionally lucky to have gained the opportunity to attend through my job, a luxury most people are not afforded. And while DTRH have tickets available at many levels of affordability, including payment plans and early bird sales available now for next year, many festivals and other live events do not. Glastonbury tickets for this year’s festival started at £280 (not including booking fees, another roadblock set up by opportunist middlemen looking to make a quick buck). While payment plans are also available for these, once you take into account the logistical and financial nightmare that is long distance travel, it is just not as good value for money to chase that same feeling.
You pay for the name, for the feeling of superiority you get when you say you were there, the absolute antithesis of my takeaway from last weekend, and something I myself used to be guilty of. I would attend gigs I paid through the nose for, to see bands I wasn’t the biggest fan of, just to say I was there. What a useless waste of the scarce money I had, to come home feeling exactly the same than if I had cracked open a bottle of wine and danced around my tiny kitchen listening to them on Spotify. So, what’s the difference? When did this change?
I personally believe the pandemic has left a lot to answer for in this regard. Being deprived of joy for so long, it feels more concentrated when we encounter it now. We’ve learned to truly appreciate, we’ve learned how to savour experiences. Coupled with the absolute decimation of the art and creative industries during this time, it has truly made us sit up and listen to the true impact the arts have on our lives. How many of you went out for your daily allotted exercise with your headphones in? How many of you got through your days binge-watching new and classic TV shows? Picked up crochet or knitting needles and decided this was a feasible business venture? How many of you have tattoos? The arts are the punctuation in our daily sentences and have been disregarded for too long now.
How many of you were left shocked in the weeks leading up to lockdown, when non-essential travel and activities were simply discouraged, allowing theatres to come to the brink of bankruptcy without insurance before the worst was yet to come? This sequence of events only highlighted the brutality with which the Tories have wielded their axe towards the industry. Decades of slashed budgets have had a real impact on availability and costs, with only more to come with the latest set of cuts last year affecting arts education, with a knock-on effect on the prospects of future generations of artists and creatives. They, of course, out of touch as they are, will not see it this way. As far as they’re concerned, one less art student is one less woke snowflake who wouldn’t vote for them. It’s one more person ‘liberated’ from the pressures of the left, primed for scooping up into their party membership. They simply do not care that, in their mission to ‘tackle cancel culture’, they are in fact cancelling culture as we know it.
Investment in the arts is the key to accessibility. With adequate funding, we can continue to create, to inspire and create again. We did not get to the rich culture we see today without innovation from across demographics, and we continue to see the positive effects of intersectional representation within it now. We cannot afford to lose this, and the Scottish Government needs to continue to commit to its Creative Scotland funding in the post-independent nation, so we can all enjoy that feeling again. That feeling of enjoying life, without the need to escape it.