From yesterday’s Guardian
“The final reckoning
It is the biggest cull in the arts council’s history: some 200 organisations have until tomorrow to tell it why they shouldn’t suffer massive funding cuts – and possible extinction. Laura Barnett meets six companies facing a grim future “
Is this some new epidemic, are we talking mass extinction, the end of the cultural world …no….some theatres and arts organisations are having some (not all if one reads into the article properly) funding cut.
Do I sympathise?..Do I hell. Welcome to the real world luvvies this has been coming for years and hats off to the powers that be for finally taking a fairly blunt blade to one of the most unfair aspects of art funding in the post-war era.
As part of the post-war welfare state settlement the Arts Council was basically set up to protect the ‘finer’ arts of Classical Music, Opera, Ballet and Theatre in that order. The emphasis was on a middle-class definition of what constituted the arts and to hell with the rest. One very significant aspect of the current round of cuts and ‘re-distribution’ is how fine art finally is getting some serious attention. Oh I can hear the actors sobbing through their make-up what about the Damien Hirts and Tracey Emins of this world they are no more deserving of our taxpayers money than little Rupert or Joanna’s stage school future? (Ed.note: stage school’s are presently fit to burst with little middle-class Harry Potter wannabe actors – a weird by-product of celebrity culture).
Well the simple factual history is that compared to the glorious ‘stage’ beneficiaries above the more ‘rootless’ occupations of writer (poet, novelist, screenwriter) and fine artist have never shared anything approaching the same munificence when it came to dolling out the cream. Before any smart-arse commentator says what about Shakespeare before pointing out the link between the stage and TV etc blah blah drone…can I point out that we talking about mediocre middle-class theatre going here not Sam Shephard and cutting edge avant-guardism….which will continue to thrive and prosper in the underfunded hinterland all ‘cutting-edge’ arts have traditionally occupied i.e. the cash-free zone.
No what this article in the Guardian very clearly shows is that when their livelihoods at risk the governers, boards, equity members and boosters of middle-england’s stages are second to none in rallying the troops and creating a storm in a teacup to get their beloved money back…after all being high earners they contribute more than most to tax so why shouldn’t they spend it on themselves?
The ‘glorious stage’ is one of the most ridiculous conceits of post-war Britain. I am a fine arts graduate from a working-class background and I can quite honestly say I never been troubled by the notion of visiting a theatre much nor worrying about them let alone sitting through some ghastly revival of J.B.Priestley or the latest supposed cutting-edge play which actually badly written and being watched by two theatre critics and a bored poodle. Oh and the Edinburgh Festival…..I lived there …the displays of some of the appallingly talentless were stupendous to behold…the comedians were good but that sums up theatre today…
This is a class issue and it goes to the heart of what New old labour may finally be trying to do do here before the pressure groups secretly vote for Cameron to right this awful genocide, this stake in the heart…this unforgiveable wrong…this final reckoning….
Maybe it is Brown’s accounting eye that has flagged it up but the simple truth is that a large number of these ‘flagship’ cutting edge theatres actually survive by children’s book tie-ins at Xmas, comedy gigs and well this a rumour but a substantial one..by cooking the books when it comes to actual bums on seats when it comes to providing stats to feed back to ACE to access yet more funding…that would be called fraud in other countries but here it politely ignored..until now..allegedly
Now that a sharp eye and an even sharper knife has been brought out to bring this sad state of affairs to an end anybody would think mass murder was being done…but will there be even an Agatha Christie body in the library to cry about when the curtain falls…
By comparison we have heard virtually nothing from the fine artists and writers who lost funding en masse from last April onwards simply because they are not as organised or as connected to the ‘literati’ in London Town. Where were the banner headlines when hundreds of smaller bodies and individuals were politely told the cupboard was bare?
Let us also not forget the myriad tiny organisations across all communities not just the suburban white that provided community arts of one sort or another and have now disappeared……….silence.
No it only gets nasty when the knife starts peeling the flab from the middle-englander’s favourite institutions. When there no children’s theatre at Xmas then we really are hitting a crisis….
This is the outcry above over the likes of a theatre in Exeter and a National Student festival….what would happen if the knife was aimed at the jugular of The National Opera or Covent Garden or Royal Ballet….the arts most able to support themselves and the ones most financed by ALL the taxpayers of Britain. Change of government comes to mind….you can go so far in your equality Mr. Brown but don’t fiddle with our cherished notions of what constitutes ‘real culture’…
This is where the class issue really hits home. On any weekend more people attend the local football teams or ice hockey than attend a typical theatre in my city in a year. Sport is working class theatre…..not subsidised…but equally important to the culture of this city. Working class people put their hands in their pocket to view this theatre….should we not then subsidise that too?
The sad fact is that this ‘calamity’ and ‘final reckoning’ (I wonder what this journalist would coin for a phrase if an airliner fell on her house?) is actually about taxpayer’s money that has been wasted keeping mediocre institutions open for years because the ‘client base’ vocal and politically strong. It has in no way reflected the aspirations and desires of the whole populace just this vocal minority.
Well done ACE. I think this a good start but the knife should cut deeper…much deeper and really start to allocate funds according to the new buzz words of ‘excellence’ and ‘accessibility’. Take the savings and use across all communities to provide excellence that both entertains and is really excellent and you will always get my vote. Weed out the dead wood, the lacklustre and ineffective in theatres and community arts and we may start to get value for money…not drivel..
As for the crocodile tears of these melodramatic actors and administrators watching their livelihoods wane all I can say is tough…how about getting a proper job….or get your act together and start providing that excellence that disappeared in the slew of mediocrity….maybe then you won’t need hand-outs..and if you cannot go work on the box-office at the local stadium…
Or why not start supporting the screenwriters in Los Angeles because what they striking over fundamental to all our creative futures not just a few in the Shires…
Come back Shakespeare and kick this lot into touch…