Arts Emergency

About us

Learning to read poetry or philosophy or how to understand a painting or film are not elite pursuits, but now rising tuition fees and the withdrawal of public funding for the teaching of Arts and Humanities at university means they risk becoming so.

We believe that looming debt affects the type of degree young people choose. It changes the way people view degrees, as a financial trade off based on perceived employability. Combined with an escalating premium on many jobs and the lack of countervailing pressure at home or school, many students are tempted to play safe, opting for apparently “useful” or more work-related degrees.

This being the case, in a newly marketised system any reduction in demand for Arts and Humanities degrees leads to nationwide department mergers and closures. This further reduces the opportunity to study such subjects and severely exacerbates existing inequalities of access.

“Arts Emergency are highlighting the reversal of decades’ of social access to the arts, and by association the possible disappearance of whole strands of discourse and the loss of educational enfranchisement to future generations. Save the thinker!” Stewart Lee

Over three generations the UK has gone from a society that offered free education to all, to one in which just ten prestigious private schools produce over 10% of the country’s professional elites and where a degree in Politics, Art or History can cost nearly £30,000. This is bad news for aspiring students from disadvantaged backgrounds and advocates of democracy and culture alike.

No matter what you’ve achieved, somebody helped you get there and we believe it’s on all of us to give a little back and keep the doors of the university open to those most able to benefit, but least able to pay. The Arts Emergency Service is a national network of volunteers coming together to create privilege for people without privilege and counter the myth that university, and in particular arts degrees, are the domain of the privileged. We launched our pilot in 2012 with a gig at BSix Sixth Form College in London and haven’t stopped since

Our student members are all in Further Education, 16-19 years old, and come from diverse backgrounds. They join us to seriously explore their options in the arts, media, academia and professions such as Law and Architecture. Working with a mentor; they pursue a personal goal, meet useful people from the network, and give themselves a foundation of confidence and connections on which to build a successful future – on their own terms.

After a year of mentoring is complete, we offer our ‘graduates’ ongoing access to the network. Our aim is to create opportunity and offer practical support in the longer term. We are delighted to tell you that every students that joined in our pilot year are now either studying at University or applying to go next year.

Arts Emergency mentors receive accreditation level training in listening, safeguarding and communication skills, an enhanced DBS certificate and all the ongoing support required. Behind them, our “alternative old boy network” comprises hundreds of volunteers working in TV, film, music, art, academia, law, architecture, activism, comedy, journalism, publishing, design and theatre. They provide information and contacts along the way, it’s something that has proven very popular with our switched on students!

Alan Moore

The work we do is no substitute for justice witheld, it is done in solidarity, not charity. Though the service is student lead we welcome collaboration from all like-minded citizens, contact us at or better yet join the network now.