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Chapter 16 - But What Are We Fighting For?

Shakespeare, Economics, and the Arts in Wartime Britain

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 August 2023

Amy Lidster
Affiliation:
University of Oxford
Sonia Massai
Affiliation:
King's College London
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Summary

A photograph from 1941 shows a hall in use as a feeding centre for destitute families. In the background, the Old Vic theatre company sets up for a performance. Part of a Ministry of Information series documenting the Old Vic’s tour of the South Wales coalfields (1941), it serves as a reminder of economic failure in early twentieth-century Britain. The Old Vic, a home for Shakespeare, opera, and ballet since before the start of the First World War, was one of a number of pre-war and wartime organizations bringing art and education to the people. It was their approach to art for all which largely inspired the establishment of the government Committee (later Council) for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA), the forerunner of the Arts Council. A Ministry of Information film (1942) by Dylan Thomas, Alan Osbiston, and others that documents CEMA’s work shows the arts as an essential and productive part of the war effort, while also making the Keynesian economic case for arts funding. Modest financial support for the arts creates employment (including manual jobs) and life-enhancing consumption (theatre-, gallery-, and concert-going). Since no physical goods are involved, money circulates in the economy without inflation.

Type
Chapter
Information
Shakespeare at War
A Material History
, pp. 155 - 164
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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