Sunday, November 26, 2006

More Arts Special Pleading

Free market arts: Lemon Jelly

As I continue to mull over the poverty issue, I stumbled across a recent Observer article I originally missed. Under the headline Does Money Matter? it asks various arts luminaries and artists about their attitudes to public funding. And it's full of useful facts and figures, like the fact that taxpayers are giving £77m to plutocrats' favourite the Royal Opera House during their current three year "settlement". And that total arts spending will be £1.7bn over the same period.

Sir Nicholas Hytner, the Director of the National Theatre - which gets £15m pa of public funding - says:

"There is not much difference between the patronage bestowed on Mozart by Emperor Josef II and what the Arts Council and the Department for Media, Culture and Sport do for arts organisations like the National Theatre today.

'Whether you are talking about 18th-century Vienna or the UK today, the wealth that was and is handed out to the arts is the people's wealth. And it is absolutely right that it should be spent on the arts, because a healthy society thrives on self-examination and needs to be engaged in wondering what's beautiful and what's truthful.

'The stuff we do cannot exist on box-office alone. It is hugely labour-intensive and simply would not happen without state funding. It would be twice as expensive for audiences, so far less accessible. We spend a very large proportion of our grant on subsidised seats.'

The people's wealth.... right. Mrs T and I go to the NT regularly, but this made blood spurt from my tear ducts like that new Bond baddy. IIRC Josef II was one of those Hapsburg autocrats who probably didn't give the people too much choice over how their wealth was dealt out. And Nicky reckons robbing the poor to subsidise sweeties for a metro elite is still OK today.

Plus... and I don't mean to be cruel, but what has our bureaucratised state Arts industry ever produced that will still be performed regularly in two hundred years time? Hmm?

The article contains various other bloodboiling quotes in a similar vein.

Thankfully it seems not all arts people believe the state owes them a living. Here's Fred Deakin, Musician/animator, and one half of "electronica outfit Lemon Jelly":

'With Lemon Jelly and Airside, we did it all ourselves, financially. It came out of a frustration of having tried to go down the route of funding and realising that until you had established a reputation, the money was going to pollute what you were trying to achieve and distract you.
'I didn't want to wait around for the funding; I just wanted to get off my arse and do it. I'm really pleased that we released our own records first on our label, Impotent Fury.

'To me, it's Darwinism. If it's a good enough idea, it will survive and you'll find a way to make it happen."

Now Fred, you sound like my kind guy. Maybe we should put you in charge of the ROH.

PS One argument for subsidies not featured in the article is the one heavily pushed at the ippr seminar I attended last year (see this blog) - that arts boost the economy. Maybe even the arts bureaucrats have recognised that for the piffle it is.

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