On a glorious autumn day last month, I set off for a favourite town in the Wolds, because I had a date with their annual festival of literature and craft. I had a good time as usual, but it was obvious how much the festival had changed from its previous incarnation as a district council project, funded and managed as part of the local authority public services. I’m sure the same has happened in your area too, particularly if you’re a smalltowner or living a long bus-ride away from the scene of action. Libraries closed, events pulled, funding stopped, publicity scaled down, and access denied. That’s the end result of course – access being denied to the arts and literature, things which people have relied on throughout the centuries to give them meaning and support. We’re lucky in that public interest companies and arts trusts may take up the programme which a local authority can no longer provide, but this is rarely a longterm solution. If your venue used to be a theatre studio or a library and now it’s a table in a shop, or an anonymous room in a business startup centre – beware. You can literally see how the arts are being trivialised and made less relevant, less attractive, and less of what the reading public deserves.
Well, I did my session in the room with the stained carpet and the rattling hatch in the sports venue nearly a mile out of town, and I was glad to do so. But it’s not the festival I used to set aside a whole weekend for, and it looks like one more casualty in the trend away from culture in the community. In other areas of the country, things appear to be different; festivals being created by enterprising bookshop owners and literary groups, and torrents of Twitter advertising the latest shows. But not everyone can get into a city or drive nearly a hundred miles to a venue straight after work – the rural areas are missing out on what the new-media driven urbanites can take for granted.