Corey Mwamba


Long games

At the moment—and I use that phrase as I still think it isn't over yet—Derby City Council is considering disproportionate measures against arts provision in Derby. What isn't being mentioned enough is that these measures do not just affect the larger organisations such as QUAD, Deda and Sinfonia ViVa [there's no point talking about Derby Theatre: more politicking from the university caused that catastrophe]. It has affected and will affect the entire city. No one is talking about how our Caribbean Carnival will run; whether Chaddesden's Carnival is affected; or about how vital arts work in statutory settings [health, community, youth services and so on] will be damaged further. The cost of arts cuts in areas other than Neighbourhoods—the section that the arts is in—makes the total cut to arts provision over a million pounds [£1,116,000: my rough calculations].

To summarise:

  1. our two largest organisations [Deda and Quad] will have all of their regular funding allocations phased out over the next 2–4 years.
  2. In addition to this ALL arts provision across the city is receiving a 30% reduction in funding. This includes the Council's Small Arts Grants, which is supposed to cover the whole city.
  3. Not only that, but the infrastructure that the Council uses to support the arts—the Arts Team—is being reduced to one full-time person for the entire city.
  4. As a side-effect of cuts in other areas of the budget, arts work in the communities, health and education are adversely affected and to date has not been accounted for or mentioned strongly enough. This includes Derby Carnival [Derby West Indian Community Association will lose its funding in less than six months], and Urban Asia [Surtal Arts is in the same situation as DWICA].

But the language in the papers is still pushing towards talking about the arts as only two buildings, and part of my struggle has been to widen up this perspective.

Let me explain my situation. I have had a working relationship with Deda for a decade or more. I have worked behind its reception; fixed its computer systems; played for its contemporary dance classes; worked on all sorts of project on its behalf, and bought masses of drinks there, as well as hiring out its spaces for my own work. I know its value to me as an artist and a person. And I am fully prepared to fight for it to continue. I have invested time and money in that building—it might not be millions, but it should have a value to Deda.

I also remember playing solo gigs outside community centres all over the city: and I have worked with schools, centres and faith organisations on all sorts of projects; and listened to people around the city over the years. All over the city.

And that is just MY condensed story. Of things that happen ALL over the city. The arts scene is not the city centre.

I'm not saying I've always succeeded—and in fact, there are occasions where I really haven't—but my aim has always been reduce the stratification between what we perceive as the large organisations and everybody else. That's what I did on regional council for my region's Arts Council: what I tried [and largely failed] to do for DCDAN; and what I do in my own work. Large organisations NEED everybody else to function. They always have. The scene itself relies on things happening outside of the institutions - because that's where all of these artists come from. But people from outside have their own networks and places to visit. I am talking about where artists—the fuel of arts activity—come from.

In short: although the budget proposals do threaten the buildings, no one is talking about the cut-off of the fuel supply itself, all over the city.

Putting this view across has taken some work. It's instinctual for an organisation to try and save itself. But the problem is we are talking about obligate mutual relationships, so if people try to stand alone, they will die together regardless.

If the arts scene really is a community, then no one person or organisation can keep it afloat. It just doesn't work, not in the long run. It's worth pointing out that the 30% cut for the entire city quite probably came from the consultation that Quad and Deda were privy too: something that I suspect seriously backfired when the council announced its proposals. The record of Quad and Deda's work is impressive, especially with Feste in the city centre. But when it comes down to it, we are living in risk-aversive times; and I don't think either organisation was prepared for the whole-scale dumping that the council is trying to hand them.

But the important thing in all this is that it's time to stick together. Being able to see the back-story of a situation doesn't mean that I should be attacking those that caused it. That's why the Save Derby Arts on Facebook is a very good thing. It has mobilised sectors of the city into action, and got me to think deeply about what I could do. And it made me realise that I couldn't do it alone. So, with a lot of encouragement from artists like Paula Moss, George Harris [who doesn't even live in Derby any more] and Sali Gresham, I got a group of individual artists, the organisations, and people who care about the arts around the table to talk about what we could put to council.

We worked hard, and made an impact. And there is still more to be done. This is a long game, and it is not over until the final decision is made. We can still influence it, even though we're not allowed at the decision meeting: and I think we will do it together. But even now, some people have not learned the lesson of sticking together when times get tough. We'll see how that goes... but it is no way to play a long game.

If anyone else has stories or experiences of fighting for the arts in your area, it'd be great to hear them.

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