The sad farewell to IdeasTap is a sad indictment of arts funding in the UK

When IdeasTap closes in June, we'll lose a huge resource for up-and-coming artists

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On 2 June 2015 IdeasTap will be closing its doors. It will be a sad day for all young and aspiring creative people in the UK.

If you've never heard of IdeasTap let me fill in some blanks for you. It was an organisation founded in 2008 by Peter De Haan with the aim of supporting young and aspiring creative people as they sought to navigate their exciting but demanding career paths through the arts world. Since then, IdeasTap has provided funding for creative projects, industry opportunities, training, advice, online and offline networking, job listings, and more, to people from a host of different backgrounds. 

We've featured photographic opportunities offered by IdeasTap here on Photocritic, and I know that my cousin, a theatre producer, has sought support from IdeasTap, too. It was an across-the-board resource that was well regarded for its integrity and well respected for its value. There are a little under 200,000 members registered with IdeasTap and millions of people visit its website every year. IdeasTap has given away more than £2.3m in funding and mentoring, and 62,000 people have benefited from opportunities created by the organisation. Add to that people who've met and formed collaborations through IdeasTap, found jobs via it, and used its editorial to educate, inform, and advise them.  

But now all of this–the opportunities, the knowledge, the support–will be lost, because the money has run out.

IdeasTap was funded largely by Peter De Haan's charitable foundation, established in 1999. This trust is reaching the end of its financial life and all other avenues of funding that the IdeasTap team has pursued, both government and corporate, have met with dead ends. 

The loss of IdeasTap, its financial support, and its institutional knowledge is a blow for the arts in the UK, but it's more than that. It's representative of the debilitated state of funding for creative endeavours across the country. It's a microcosmic reflection of a macroscopic problem.

Arts Council England–a body which provides funding to various artistic and creative projects and concerns in England from Government and National Lottery sources–has seen its budget cut each year since 2010. Local authorities, which are under no obligation to provide funding for theatres, galleries, or museums, have slashed their cultural provision in order to balance their increasingly straightened books. Without any safeguards or protections, these are seen as soft targets when compared against the necessity of bin collections. 

Add to this the findings of a recent Guardian investigation into corporate sponsorship for artistic endeavours, which highlighted how major businesses and corporations are shying away from doing deals with theatrical and operatic companies, museums and galleries, and the situation for the arts appears increasingly bleak.

It is, of course, easy to dismiss this collapse in provision for the arts as a natural consequence of financial crisis. The government is obsessed with the deficit; local councils have an obligation to provide certain services but not others, and when budgets are cut the discretionary spending will logically suffer; and if businesses must choose between redundancies and funding arts projects, they too will opt for protecting their own. But throughout all of this, we cannot afford to lose sight of a fundamental principle of the arts: these are the things that make life worth living. 

Aside from the pleasure, the cultural enrichment and awareness, and indeed the employment and development that the arts provide, there's a grander principle at stake. The term 'liberal arts' was ascribed to activities such as music and poetry because these were pursuits in which free men were at liberty to indulge. It refers back to a time when men could own others and were empowered to determine life or death over human beings. The public provision of arts funding and activities, and support for those wishing to create them, is therefore symbolic of a free society. When we reside in a society where access to the enjoyment and creation of that which is beautiful, pleasurable, and thought-provoking is restricted to people of independent means, we have all become enslaved. Without the arts, we are no longer free.