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Arts Emergency

14th June 2011

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Remember what it was like choosing a university course? Choosing between a vocational and academic course is like being stuck between a rock and a hard place, especially with unemployment for under 25's at an all time high of 20.4% as of February this year and the Government’s fees rise coming into play in 2012.

Josie LongIf you want a career as a lawyer, doctor or architect where you are guaranteed high wages after graduation, spending tens of thousands of pounds on a university education may seem justified, but what if your calling is in the arts?

Well luckily, help may be at hand. The Arts Emergency Service (AES) is a charity, set up by comedian Josie Long and her friend and fundraiser Neil Griffiths. They believe that an arts degree is not a luxury and that the decision to study for a degree should be based on talent and passion rather than a financial trade-off between debt and future earnings.

Neil revealed they'd been talking about starting an arts based charity for some time, after meeting at a benefit gig Neil had arranged for a different charity.

“It’s excellent to finally be doing it – we both come from the same area and both had similar issues growing up and with Higher Education. So it all kind of fell into place naturally. It’s been so interesting getting to grips with all the different issues around participation and funding – interesting but astoundingly hard work of course!”

The charity aims to remove barriers and provide support to those who wish to study the arts and humanities through mentor schemes and financial assistance, helping those who are struggling emotionally, financially and practically.

Of course not having an arts degree does not necessarily mean that you cannot follow the arts career of your choice, but it does mean that the potential barriers to success are that much more real. A large percentage of leisure pursuits such as film, music and fashion are possible because of the arts in some way and to lose the skills and talent in those areas would be a tragic loss for us all. 

“We both got so much out of studying a BA (we both did English) - not only in a career sense of having critical and communication skills, but from how an arts degree enriches your entire life. A lot of the research we’ve looked at as well as testimony from current students and graduates of our age suggests many people from under-represented groups will opt for more vocational study. We want to tell those people that an arts degree is not a luxury and that if you have a talent you owe it to yourself to fulfil it!”

It's important for people to pursue what they love and enjoy - that's the true road to success! Arts and Humanities in Higher Education are undervalued, the old jokes about BA grads flipping burgers and the ever growing financial concerns students have to shoulder mean that it really is hard, especially for the less well off and first generation students, to study something like English or History of Art as the career path is less obvious than say Law or Business studies.

Historically strong investment in the Arts and Humanities has underpinned some of the most valuable and dynamic engines of the UK economy including media, culture and information and arts graduates do tend to take longer to settle on a particular path in life but when they do it seems they quickly catch up – 43% of the current cabinet have arts degrees you know!

If we don’t act now to tackle barriers and perceived barriers into the arts then we risk undermining a vitally important part of our cultural, personal and economic life. In ten years time it may be too late to repair the damage.”

Through financial help the charity hopes to give people, who had not seen it as a viable option, a chance to study for an arts degree. An equally important aspect of the support they hope to provide is through access to a mentor. This type of support could ultimately make the difference between people making a success of a career in the arts or not. Eventually the charity would like to mentor every student that needs support, and by starting small this gives the charity plenty of room to grow and meet the needs of more students.

“We want passionate and engaged creative professionals and graduates. We just need people who are willing to make a real commitment to students who need the kind of personal support that so many others benefit from without even realizing it. We’ve got interest from over 40 people – an overwhelming response, right now we are putting the program together – there is no point assuming you know what is needed, we are actively asking people what they need!”

It’s obvious Josie and Neil have a clear passion for the arts and a belief in what the charity stands for. Their goals for the medium and long term are ambitious, but with Josie and Neil as directors on the board – as campaigner and fundraiser respectively, they certainly have the driving force to make sure the charity is a success.

“Our long term aims are clear: Everyone who has a talent for the arts is able to overcome practical and financial barriers to successfully study them! Medium term we would like to see AES establish itself as a leading supporter of arts study and for the students we work with to go on and succeed in their chosen careers and in their personal lives thanks in part to the confidence we gave them to do something they loved.”

It will not just be Josie and Neil on the board. An advisory board made up of academics, creative professionals and student reps will assess the applications for support to ensure that any money raised is spent effectively.  Fundraising for the charity will begin in earnest in the very near future, but it sounds like already there is interest from the artistic community to get involved.

 “Alongside traditional fundraising like philanthropists and grant makers, we are lucky to have so many kind artists and musicians willing to do things for us as well as challenge events being organized for the end of the year. It will all be very exciting once things kick off!”

The charity is in its fledgling stages, but if you feel that you could benefit from help from the AES then keep checking their website for updates.

If you would like to help then AES would love to hear from arts and humanities students explaining why their degrees are so important, as well as graduates who have been through tough times at university and want to give something back by being a mentor to someone similar who is just beginning their journey.

To find out more information go to their website at  or contact the team about anything including providing help by email at arts.emergency@gmail.comquoting NT in the subject line!

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