Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Arts anxiety

Don’t get me wrong. Mrs Tyler and I think there’s nothing better of a warm summer’s evening than poodling down to the Chichester Festival Theatre. The productions are invariably enjoyable, the interval drinks on the lawn quite splendid, and there’s even a Leith’s restaurant on site.

Of course there’s no riff-raff, just the educated middle class of Surrey, Hampshire and Sussex having a genteel night out. No top hats maybe, but definitely going out my dear to breathe an atmosphere that simply reeks of class…and money, obviously.

So…er…and I know I’ve asked this before, but…why on earth should the taxpayer subsidise it? Because it turns out the Theatre cops a million quid a year from the Arts Council.

Glyndebourne? Yes, please. Their touring department gets £1.4 million. The National Theatre? £17 million. The RSC £14 million. And top of the list, the Royal Opera House gets a whacking £25 million. That’s…why, that’s a quid each for every family in the land, most of whom have absolutely no interest in opera and ballet whatsoever. And as anyone who’s ever been to Covent Garden knows, the entire audience is made up of plutocrats, freeloaders on corporate entertainment boonies, and…er, well those middle class thingies again.

The Department of Media Culture and Sport sprays around £1.5 billion of our money every year, of which a third goes to the Arts Council. Its funds are then split between a predictable mix of inaccessible fringe dance troupes and expensive treats for the affluent middle class.

Now, I’m sure Mrs T and I get far more than our fair share of these subsidies. But we don’t feel good about it. Not good at all. In fact, it quite takes the fizz out of that second glass of champagne. The state doesn’t subsidise whippet racing for those guys with flat caps up North, and deep down we know it shouldn’t subsidise us.

And an arts industry that is dependent on state bureaucracy for its funding is not one that is ever going to be at the forefront of developing new products and new customers. The Arts Council should be wound up.

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