Politics, Players, and Pork - Part I

Politicians With Their Pants Down

Photo by superk8nyc — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Politicians win votes telling us to invest in the future. Do you ever get the sense, though, that when it comes to art, they would much rather support the past?

On December 12, the British Arts Council notified the arts community that 197 organizations will be facing funding cuts. That is about 25% of groups funded by the Arts Council. At the same time, 75% of the groups will be receiving an increase, either in line with inflation or above. In addition, 80 new companies will join the roll of funding.

So, the pre-holiday decisions (this is the land of Dickens, after all) brought a mix of bad news, good news, and great news — but the news stories with traction would be the outrage of the arts community.

The Arts Council chief, Peter Hewitt, agreed to meet with the community at the Young Vic before the appeal process closed on January 15. In a two hour meeting, which followed the traditional time of a play but did not have a neat three act structure, Hewitt heard from approximately 500 theatre luminaries including Peter Hall, Ian McKellen, Jonathan Pryce, and Kevin Spacey. The end result: the crowd gave a “vote of no confidence” in the Arts Council.

Louise Wylie, the council’s director of media relations, told the New York Times, “We always knew that was going to be a very difficult meeting.” Give her credit for honest dramaturgy.

Hewitt’s summation of the dilemma: “Choosing not to fund an organization is a very difficult decision and one we do not take lightly… Sometimes this is on the grounds of their performance to date “” poor artistic quality, a failure to deliver what they were funded for, poor management or any combination of these “” and sometimes because we believe the money can be used more effectively elsewhere.”

Aye, there’s the rub.

However, are politicians and their appointees those best qualified to decide?

We know governments like to control the story of the past, do their best to avoid the problems of the present, and spin the future. Doesn’t sound like the perfect preparation for deciding the investment of a nation’s cultural future, does it?

Preserving culture is easy because it is safe. There is no fear of controversy — or consequences.

Next time in Part II, a view of what kind of national culture a government should support by looking at the consequences as felt by the Bush Theatre, and on the other side of the Atlantic, “artyrs” stage a die-in to protest a foundation’s advice to figure out an exit strategy rather than continuing to create. They asked the foundation for twenty $500 grants to cover “funeral costs.”

- Bill Reichblum

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