Britain's creative "climate" changed suddenly in the 1930s. The depression ruined a network of thousands of local, private organizations supporting musicians, painters, dancers, actors and playwrights.
Some British leaders saw clearly that letting these organizations fail meant losing the creativity in a generation of young people; giving up hard-won traditions of artistic excellence admired around the world; weakening British morale in the coming war with Hitler.
How did Britain meet these dangers? In 1939, a small group of private-sector and government leaders formed the Council for Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA). Through six years of war,CEMA organized and paid for concerts, art exhibits, and theatrical performances in cities, towns, and rural areas all over the United Kingdom. In the time of its greatest national emergency, England counted the arts among its most powerful weapons against Nazi domination. When the War ended, CEMA changed into The Arts Council. Since 1945, Britain has continued to pay for the arts from its national treasury.
In his lecture, Professor Sponberg will tell stories about artists performing while bombs fall, exhausted factory workers refreshed by concerts including the works of, ironically, German composers like Bach and Beethoven, and especially about the artists and bureaucrats whose creativity changed British life. He will also probe a further irony: how a reclusive American philanthropist donated a gift to the British people that made CEMA possible.
Arvid F. Sponberg
Professor of English
Member, organizing committee, Chicago Theatre Symposium
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