So it doesn't have the usual springboards for the arts; it doesn't have very much money. Despite this, there are several small theatres, in Frome, Taunton, Street and Yeovil. There's a group called Takeart, which takes drama round to schools and villages. There are stacks of amazing artists and craftspeople, drawn by the magical landscape of the levels, the hills, woods and streams of Exmoor, the Somerset coast, the Quantocks. And there are writers, of course.
Up until now, the County Council has helped to support the arts. The amount of money involved wasn't huge: £159 000, or 0.0004% of the total budget. (There has never been enough for luxuries such as a literature development officer.) But two days ago, the Conserative led council voted not just to cut the budget by 26% over four years, as had been anticipated: with a fine sweep of the pen, they have decided to cut the arts development budget completely. The only arts projects which will have any support are those which will be able to show a direct economic benefit for the community. Imaginative as they are, organisations such as the theatres and Takeart will find it difficult to plug the holes in their budgets - difficult to persuade other hard-pushed organisations such as the Arts Council to take up the slack.
This seems to be part of a general drift towards a society where the arts are valued only for their direct contribution to the economy. So - universities are to be encouraged by means of funding to favour science over the arts. Students are to pick up the tab for their studies because, after all, they will get a better job because of their degree. There seems to be a notion that artists and thinkers are a luxury, not a necessity in these difficult economic times. Well, I don't believe this is so. Let me quote this, from www.takeart.org:
In Somerset we believe in the transformational power of the arts, their capacity to fire the imagination, their ability to give meaning to our lives and our relationships with each other, a language to enable us to celebrate our common bonds – they empower and enable the 'Big Society'. We also believe all groups in society should be able to access the arts, such as those living in isolated, rural communities or children and young people living in difficult financial circumstances.
Wednesday was a sad day for Somerset. Maybe it's worth considering: why do we remember Ancient Greece? Worthy and important as they no doubt were, is it because of the tax gatherers? Probably not...