politics and art

Well, we are living in interesting times, aren’t we?

At the start of this week, the news that West Belfast rap band Kneecap are taking Kemi Badenoch (currently Secretary of State for Business and Trade, though we’ll see how long that lasts) to court for stepping in to block an award to them of £15,000 in funding. “We fully support freedom of speech, but it’s hardly surprising that we don’t want to hand out UK taxpayers’ money to people that oppose the United Kingdom itself” said her spokesperson. As so often, everything in the sentence before that all-important “but” is hot air, guff, and bullshit. Kemi’s self-importance (and her desire to feed some red meat to the folk who’ve bought into the ‘culture wars’ nonsense she’s busy peddling on her way up the greasy pole) has already given Kneecap priceless publicity, and may yet end up making the current government look even more witless than they did before her intervention. Quite the double whammy.

On top of that, yesterday, the revelation (from arts journal Arts Professional) that Arts Council England appear to have amended their funding guidance to warn that political statements made by individuals may cause an organisation ‘reputational risk’ – even if those statements are made in a personal capacity outside of their work with the organisation – and that this may, in turn, breach funding agreements.

At a time when it’s already harder than ever to get Arts Council funding – I was told last week that just 1 in 10 applications are successful – this news provoked a furious backlash. It’s not hard to see why. Would artists be minded not to speak out on political matters, rather than lengthening the odds against themselves still further? Might arts organisations decide to play safe, by choosing a squeaky-clean artist they can be confident won’t ruffle the wrong feathers, over a gobby one who can’t be trusted to keep their mouth shut and put hard-won funding at risk?

This afternoon, ACE put out a statement designed to reassure everyone that freedom of expression remains at the heart of what they do. You can read it here. Whether that’ll pour sufficient oil on troubled artistic waters remains to be seen.

Against that background, I’m more delighted than ever that after my gig at Coventry’s Fire & Dust a couple of weeks ago, magazine Here Comes Everyone gave me the opportunity to talk about what I do, and why political poetry – and political work by any artist, whatever their genre – is more vital than ever. You can read that Q&A here.

In the unlikely event anyone from ACE is reading this, or Kemi Badenoch has dropped by in search of enlightenment, it goes without saying that art is always political, and it’s especially political when it’s keeping its nose clean and pretending it’s not being political at all. And with that in mind… Free Palestine, build council houses, tax the rich, bring in Universal Basic Income, reduce rents, end homelessness, Just Stop Oil, dismantle the patriarchy, smash the f**king system.

If you read that list and believe any element of it is relevant to whether my work – or any arts organisations I might work for – should be eligible to receive funding, then I suggest you need to think very carefully about the nature of the world you seem so ready to usher in. History shows us that when the state decrees what opinions are and are not acceptable in art, the outcomes are rarely good.

And now, over to Tim for the weather.