We are often told that the arts are good for us: they improve our mental health; help us to empathise with different people; they entertain, educate, soothe and enthuse us; they make us better citizens. But who gets the most out of the arts? Is it the “creative industries”, the army of cultural workers who help make all the glory happen? Is it the academics who study, interpret, assess and talk about it? It must be the audience visiting the galleries, theatres and concert halls, mustn’t it? The arts are for them, surely?
I have long argued that the people who get the most out of the arts are the ones who make them. Be it visual art, music, drama, literature, dance, moving image or comedy, making art gives us a place to distil our human experience. I am best known for visual art and TV, but have worked in all the aforementioned genres. I have participated with inept amateurism and sat at the top of the professional tree, and everything in between. I have shed tears of joy creating all of them, too.
In lockdown, we have been made to think about what is important to us, and we have had a lot of time to do it. What better recipe for making art can there be? What we found when making Grayson’s Art Club for Channel 4 was a huge outpouring of creativity: every week, thousands of people from every background sending us their artworks. As we come blinking out into the light, now is the time to leave a space in our lives to make art, whether we join a choir, a writing group, a quilting bee, a dance class, set up a studio in the shed or make funny videos on our phones. Make a little nest for your feelings about being alive, nurture them that they may fledge and fly.
Most of the infrastructure to support this is in place: there are thousands of groups already set up to share and encourage. The Arts Council could help fund this, and employers could subsidise cultural activity, like a 21st-century equivalent of colliery bands. Any group activity is good for mental health, but making art together is doubly so.
The professional cultural sector will recover from this terrible blow; there is a deep hunger for the cream of human creativity. I feel it is just as important that everyone knows that making art is for them, and that the rewards increase with commitment, as with any relationship. Making art is good for you.