Arts Administration

By John Pick; Malcolm Anderton | Go to book overview
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5

Government intervention: supports and constraints

5.1

GOVERNMENT MOTIVES

As Wilson Knight (1962) pointed out, the patron god of the performing arts, Dionysus, has always been an enemy of orderly government: '…he is always threatening it, both with lusts, indecencies and indignities, and with crimes, ghosts and death. There is nothing respectable or civilised about him: he is the enemy of such qualities.' This ancient truth should remind us that the most benign of governments will sometimes even now try to suppress dramas, books and paintings which are Dionysian in spirit: that is, works which seem to them to be morally irresponsible, subversive in thought or an incitement to revolution. Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, for example, was thought by the British to be too dangerous for performance in English until the 1930s. Sometimes even music may be suppressed by a government because it seems to be linked with an enemy of the state; thus the music of Wagner (said to be Hitler's favourite composer) is still actively discouraged today in Israel.

A second reason governments have for constraining activity in the arts is an ancient 'fear of the mob'. Popular arts movements tend to alarm the authorities; any large, emotional, easily-swayed gathering at a pop concert, rave or rally raises the spectre of the crowd storming the Winter Palace. So, although we begin this chapter by discussing government support of the arts, we must keep in mind that there are parallel ways in which governments, even as they seem to 'support' the arts, are also striving to constrain it.

Titmuss (1970; 1974) first suggested that the motives of governments apparently acting to benefit their peoples could be readily, if somewhat cynically, categorized. His models, briefly outlined below, give us a useful guide to what government motives may be when they 'support' the arts.

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