Another Arts Funding Crisis?  I blame Maslow and his Hierarchy.

Another April Sunday and another London Marathon is under starters orders and they’re off!

The wheelchair racers are soon out in front, the elite women not far behind them and the elite men not far off their heels either. And lumbering towards the starting line, the giant phalanx of runners of all shapes and sizes gathers itself and sets off too, carrying all their glorious humanity, spectacle and impromptu carnival atmosphere.

The TV soon hones in on the multitude of stories of what motivates these runners: running for mum, running for dad, running for Colin down the road who came home from work one day a bit short of breath but was dead by the weekend, struck down in his prime with some deadly unknown variant of a disease hardly anyone had ever heard of.

The medically motivated stories come thick and fast now that the race is underway and there’s a runner for every potential ailment which afflicts humanity.  But what’s common to the runners is their desire, not just to run the race of their lifetime, but to raise funds to direct towards potential cures of, or respite from, those ailments.  

Whether this be through funding research, hospices, personal support, clothing, food, respirators, the list is endless, but all attending to addressing various physiological deficiencies which many loved ones near and afar are experiencing.

Breathing, eating, water, shelter, clothing, sleep: the basic human physiological needs as presented on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs provide the inspiration of many of the runners who are working their way through the streets of London this wet Sunday afternoon. 

Maslow’s Hierarchy is a motivational theory comprising a five-tier model of human needs, and is often shown as hierarchical levels within a pyramid. At the bottom of the hierarchy are the physiological needs (Breathing, eating, water, shelter, clothing, sleep), followed by safety, love and at its peak, self-actualization: the latter of which includes the motivation of creativity.

Maslow suggests that the needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to higher needs, for example, breathing comes before dancing, painting or acting and on one level  this is hard to dispute.

Walking for the Teenage Cancer Trust, running for MIND, racing for Shelter: the runners of the phalanx are driven, their causes are worthy, attention demanding and brook no argument. Why would you dispute Tony’s need for rare medication? Joan’s need for emotional support? Abraham’s need for safe housing?

They’re no brainers of causes and in times of energy crisis, post covid stress and cost of living meltdowns in which governments can only wring their hands in anxiety or sheer couldn’t-give-a toss-ness, their demand for protection against life threatening conditions is undisputed.

But wait a moment – who else is crossing the line here? Some smart Alec who wants to raise money for drama classes for the youth in his village? And another smarter Alexa who want to improve the painting skills of the tiny tots in her inner-city nursery? They’re all very well, but in these tough every-penny-counts-for-our-physiological-needs-days, the insistent request for arts funding of all things really is taking the proverbial biscuit.

In some minds, the arts are a nice thing to have, a nice want, not an essential need and if you asked Mr. Maslow about what he felt his priorities were, he suggests that the arts aren’t in that baseline of his triangle but are better located at its peak, in the tip of the pyramid that is called ‘self actualisation’ presumably subsumed within creativity.

Placing creativity at the top of his pyramid of needs, Mr Maslow doesn’t do justice to how the arts and creativity play out in our lives.  The fact is that creativity isn’t just the preserve of the great and the good, the singers of the Top 40 or the TV celebrities who are out plugging their books and recent films.  Creativity is a daily motivational necessity for all of us, not the preserve of the privileged few.  

Anna Craft many years ago pointed us to the concept of everyday creativity, the “little-c creativity” which we all draw on to get us through our daily grinds. Craft’s work suggested that creativity – whilst not a physiological phenomenon like breathing, eating and sleeping – is a fundamental need to all our existences: an everyday and lifelong imperative, a problem-finding, problem-solving capability with possibility thinking – the transformation from what is to what might be – at its heart (Robin Alexander, Cambridge Primary Review, 2014)

The conflict that emerges when we try and place the value of creativity against the value of the kidney machine, decent housing or a respirator is misplaced and misses the point that all our creativities need supporting: and that they are as essential to our lives as housing, hygiene and hydration.

Whilst Maslow came up with his model in 1954, my modest proposal is that it’s about time that model was redrawn to reflect creativity as being a base need in his pyramid.

Whilst this may not have a huge impact on the runners and riders of the 2024 London Marathon, it might at least see the arts being acknowledged as being a vital cause to attract further additional investment from a willing public: and could go some way to ameliorating the effects of the next arts funding crisis which will be coming to an arts centre very near you, any time soon.

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