Sunday, January 27, 2008

Arts Angst

Alternative funding for the RSC


Back from Stratford having seen an outstanding Henry IV 1 and 2. It's had somewhat "mixed" reviews, but we thought it six hours of brilliance. In particular, David Warner is Falstaff to the life- totally reprehensible, but still warm and engaging. It's not an easy balance to pull off, and this is the first time we've ever seen the part played so you can actually understand why, in the face of his constant lies, freeloading, cowardice, and all-round grossness, Hal and others still want him around.

The modern take is that Falstaff is Shakespeare's Homer Simpson. But of course, he's so much more than that: he's our own worst selves.

Brilliant stuff.

Back to business

Our RSC tickets cost us £28 each, for the best seats in the house. Splendid value, only made possible because the taxpayer generously picked up the other £46.32p. So our little jaunt got subbed by all those millions of uncultured taxpaying chavs to the tune of £185! Fantastic.

As we've blogged before, the RSC is one of the biggest recipients of state arts subsidies. It currently picks up £22m pa, against only £13.3m pa from ticket sales and theatre operations; which means for every £1 the audience shells out, the taxpayer adds a £1.65 subsidy.

And in addition to that, it's getting around £100m of public funds to rebuild its Stratford theatre.

Most of this money comes via the Arts Council quango which dishes out £600m pa of our taxes, around £400m from general taxation, and the rest mainly from the Lottery Tax (see Annual Report here and previous blogs eg here).

You'd imagine that handing out taxpayers' cash would at least be pretty cheap: after all, Mrs T and I would be happy to take on the task of picking our favourite arts chockies pro bono. But getting on for 10% of the AC's money (over £50m pa) goes on its own expenses, including the costs of employing 870 permanent arts bureaucrats and their expensive final salary pension scheme (employer's contribution currently 23.5%).

For future reference here's what their top quangocrats get paid, including eight on over £100k pa:

It's not exactly starving in a garret, and remember the dosh is on top of all that free champagne and boonie tickets.

But at least they have to deal with sullen ingrate artistes, who as we know, believe they have a God given right to everlasting public funds. And right now the artistes are throwing tantrums all over the shop, screaming and stamping their little feet about the AC's latest funding allocations.

The problem is that with the Olympics snaffling so much lottery cash, the AC has been forced to make some of those horrific "tough choices". And for some reason, the losers don't like it.

Actually, it's not just the losers. The winners are hysterical with survivor guilt, including the National Theatre's top man calling the decisions "bollocks" (such literary wit from the man whose socialist blockhouse gets £15m pa subsidy).

So the wibbling AC is backing down. It's back peddling on those tough decisons and spreading the misery as prescribed in the Jim Hacker Book of Non-Management.


£600m pa.

Would we have gone to see Falstaff if it had cost us £300 rather than £100? Possibly not.

But that still ain't no justification for taxpayers subsiding the arts.