Bryant vs Blunt: Are we really talking about diversity?

Arts and culture are an important part of society. A play can cheer you up after a long week of work, a song can start your day off right and a nice painting may manage to paint a smile on your face during a dull day outside.

Chris Bryant, the shadow culture minister for Labour recently shed light over this issue, pointing towards the direction that the industry of arts may be a “no-go area for young people from less privileged backgrounds,” and that he was working on eliminating any obstacles that stood between such youth and their pursuit for the art industry.

Labour MP Chris Bryant

Labour MP Chris Bryant

Bryant claims that, “we need more diversity at every level in the arts – in education, in training, on-screen, on stage and backstage – and we need to break down all the barriers to taking part so that every talent gets a chance.”

I agree with Bryant. I am not sure if funding will reach the appropriate department in need or fulfil the demand of the class that needs it, but I agree with Bryant when he says that arts maybe a no-go for less privileged backgrounds. I even think it may be a no-go for mediocre backgrounds, where families live pay check to pay check and do not have disposable money to invest in extra music lessons or extra income to provide for a musical instrument, which mind you, cost considerably high.

From a personal point of view: I attended a secondary school where 45 minutes of a 60 minutes lesson was spent trying to settle down a class, or perhaps queuing for the fire alarm caused by troublemakers setting fire in the bathroom bins. I do not remember being encouraged to join after school clubs or classes for musical instruments.

This problem further stretches out to support systems at home. Parents working long hours seldom have time to invest in going over extra curricular activities, also taking on responsibility for transportation to and from classes outside of school hours and premises. So, whilst Bryant addresses the issue of spending funding wisely in the art industry, the problem of participation of less privileged children is more complex than that.

Another issue is the participation of children from ethnic minority groups; these tend to be over represented in the label “less privileged”. Whilst there is no intention to paint a general picture, parents from ethnically diverse backgrounds tend to focus and divert importance to academic subjects rather than the arts for example science and mathematics, encouraging their child to excel in the profession of medicine rather than music. This stands as another hole in the support system towards pursuit of arts and culture, a child may receive at home. There is little awareness in other cultures, regarding the benefits a child reaps from learning to play an instrument or learning another language. The creativity a child’s mind can absorb and exhibit through such activities.

There is little awareness of the pathways it opens for a child in their future. It gives root the mind-set where parents tend to think “we made it fine without a violin, so will my child.” I repeat, whilst funding may extend to providing better prospects for a child at school, there still remains the rest of the iceberg.

Bryant particularly mentions James Blunt in his statement, using him as an example of over representation of celebrities from privileged backgrounds. Bryant claims there is a ‘cultural drought’ in areas around London and the southeast where funding is not distributed fairly in the arts sector.

Pissed off- James Blunt. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Pissed off- James Blunt. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Blunt wrote back, calling the MP a ‘classist gimp’ and claimed that despite the fact he attended boarding school, he still made it on his own and did not receive assistance from his school regarding networking within the industry etc., rather he was expected to join the army or become a lawyer. Whilst, that may stand correct in its place, it is important to remember that James Blunt is 40 years old. Three issues rise with that number, firstly, it takes us a good 20 years back: the early 90s. It is true that back in those days, the music industry was populated by ‘hippies’, and Blunt’s claim that he was picked on for being too posh sounds pretty convincing. Secondly, the lines between ‘classes’ were not as prominent as they stand now, due to various issues: the increase in labour class, the influx of immigrants dominantly belonging to the labour class etc. Finally, the price of living in main cities have significantly risen, not only fuelling the class divide, but also making arts and culture more of a luxury than a hobby.

Whilst Bryant addresses issues such as financial situations in his statement, highlighting that “it is really tough forging a career in the arts if you can’t afford the enormous fees for drama school, if you don’t know anybody who can give you a leg up, if your parents can’t subside you for a few years whilst you make your name and if you can’t afford to take an unpaid internship.” Bryant does not address issues that go beyond financial difficulties today. It may be a start and have the intended impact, but more will be needed to increase diversity in arts and culture industry.

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