Wednesday Live: Are you an artist or a scientist?

For our last Wednesday Live of the academic year, we invited writer Sian Norris – founder of the Bristol Women’s Literature Festival and published author – to speak to the Obelisk team and our guests at a special evening version of the event. We all had a great time in The Attic, and first and foremost we’d like to thank everyone for coming along and providing such intelligent discussion.



Sian spoke to us about the inherent value of creative work, following a post on her personal blog, Sian and Crooked Rib titled “Creative work might not make big bucks, but we must value it.” Sian poses the question “What happens when we decide that arts and humanities within universities are no longer valuable?” the answer, of course, is that working class and disadvantaged people – especially school-age children – suffer first.

Many humanities subjects – including Law – can pose a difficult challenge to disadvantaged people hoping to study them. A lack of resources and education prevent many people from realising their careers in these subjects. To combat this, councils and institutions have historically provided financial help and cultural incentives to lend a helping hand to those struggling to enter the humanities. However, with cuts to Arts and Humanities funding at an all time high, fewer children are given the opportunity to study subjects they are otherwise priced out of. In a country currently celebrating 400 years of Shakespeare, 200 years of the Brontes, and yet another successful Bond instalment, we have to ask ourselves: without the right support, who will be the Shakespears, the Brontes, the Bonds, of tomorrow?

“We’re living in dark times. To me, we need the spirit of creativity and discovery more than ever. Artists, writers, makers and readers can help us unravel the ugly period we’re living through – can help us to construct meaning, reflect on what’s happening, create a new story, a new narrative. The arts and humanities can change the way we think about things; creative work can change the world.”

Since 2009, local authorities arts funding has been cut by more than £56 million, and draconian cuts to library funding has meant that over 10% of libraries are currently under threat of closure. Sian explained to us that this was actually in direct opposition to the law, which states The Duty of a local council to provide a “comprehensive and efficient library service” is a legal obligation under the 19964 Public Libraries and Museums Act.” This act also prohibits charging for book loans.

It is interesting that no-one at The Attic knew that access to libraries and museums is actually enshrined in English law – and this topic dominated much of the conversation following Sian’s presentation. We discussed that libraries are one of the few places mothers can enjoy a day out with their children for free, and what a vital resource they are for unemployed or isolated people.

We also touched on the fact that with the rise of the internet, people are less dependent on funding from large institutions to get their work in front of large audiences. More people than ever are now able to crowdfund, self publish and self create over a multiplicity of platforms at a very low cost. And luckily for our arts funding and for our libraries – we are able to make our collective voices heard.

So if you value creative work – make sure your voice is heard!