Love for Labour Lost: How Does This Theatre Director Feel after Ten Months of Arts Policy? like the Turkey Who Voted for Christmas

By Bogdanov, Michael | New Statesman (1996), February 27, 1998 | Go to article overview

Love for Labour Lost: How Does This Theatre Director Feel after Ten Months of Arts Policy? like the Turkey Who Voted for Christmas


Bogdanov, Michael, New Statesman (1996)


I have been heard to say that the Welsh have a great capacity for shooting themselves in the foot and the brain at the same time. Being Welsh, I can say that. The Cardiff Bay Opera House fiasco is a perfect example. Another opera house fiasco? How many do you want?

Well, we only have two - opera houses that is, both in London - and even these we want to combine, a severe case of English foot-and-brain disease.

Peter Jonas, former head of the English National Opera, now intendant of the Bavarian State Opera, laughed at recent speculation that he might return to save the besieged ENO. "What? Give up a budget of DM 180 million and a minister of culture who visits me only once a year and says 'Everything all right, Peter? Anything you want?'"

Germany has 75 opera houses and each of the 16 Lander has its own culture minister.

Aah! Sixteen Chris Smiths. A man who failed to act decisively over the premature departure of the populist Genista McIntosh and the hastily indecent substitution of Mary Allen as chief executive of the Royal Opera House. (Allen who oversaw a [pounds]75 million Lottery grant for the ROH from her position at the Arts Council. Incestuous? Naaah . . .)

A man who, despite a report condemning the Royal Opera House as elitist and arrogant and which led to the resignation of board and chairman, appointed yet another of the Old Boys' Brigade, running on the Stephen Dorrell ticket of in with the debs, out with the plebs. (Elitist, arrogant? Naaah . . .)

A man who ignores the calls for a fully paid chairman of the Arts Council and appoints a slash-and-burn merchant who will do the job "reluctantly" and only for one day a week. Well you would if you were unpaid, wouldn't you?

How can we still maintain that British is best, with quality so eroded by 20 years of philistinism and underfunding? Twenty years ago a group of theatre directors, our eyes bright with misunderstanding, produced a document called The 20-Year Plan. We posited the arts as a service; placed the artist at the centre of society, contributing politically, socially, aesthetically and morally to the life of the country. We talked of the inalienable right of every man, woman and child to participate in events and activities that enrich the life of the community. We saw theatre as the natural debating platform for that community, reflecting all its aspirations, anger, hopes, despair. We called for facilities and training to be available for all, across the length and breadth of Britain from primary school to institute of adult education.

This was a plan to release and develop to its fullest extent the artistic potential that exists in every child. We had a vision of a national grid, with a network of groups and artists servicing urban, suburban and rural areas: a cohesive plan, with centres in the big cities, satellite buildings ringing the outer suburbs and peripatetic groups linked to these centres servicing the outlying districts. It encompassed projects for the old, disabled, underprivileged and ethnic minorities. Where there were no premises, buildings were to be adapted or new ones constructed. The whole plan began and ended with education.

How to fund this foolish vision? We talked of a penny in the pound on income tax, a levy on the television companies which suck talent from all Corners, particularly acting and writing, returning virtually nothing to the disciplines they decimate. The solution was as simple as the Bank of England spending [pounds]7.5 billion in 24 hours to save the pound.

Why a 20-year plan? We believed that even if we began then, in 1978, with everything in place, it would take 20 years to radicalise the nation's view of the artist in society. This view is shot through with fear and suspicion and it begins early. Anyone who plays the violin is a sissy, ballet is for p---- (unacceptable word). Much better to beat or kick the shit out of each other for a piece of oval or round leather. …

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