Just Why Are We Wasting So Much Money on the Royal Opera House? Unlike the British Library, the Opera House Is Not Central to the Nation's Cultural Activities
Smith, Andreas Whittam, The Independent (London, England)
WHICH IS the odd one out among these cultural institutions? They all have new buildings. Take a journey round London to see them. In Trafalgar Square, the Sainsbury extension to the National Gallery has now been open a few years and is a wonderful improvement. Go into Covent Garden nearby and see the new Royal Opera House taking shape. The visitor should next drop down to the Thames and travel east to Bankside to find the disused power station which is being converted into a home for the Tate Gallery's collection of modern art.
Then go north to Bloomsbury, to the British Museum, where is being created the finest new public space in the capital for many years. This is the Great Court Scheme, due for completion in 2000. An inner courtyard, of vast size and noble proportions, hidden from view since the middle of the last century, is being opened up to reveal the domed Reading Room. It will be the city's first covered square. I agree with the scheme's architect, Sir Norman Foster, when he says that "what I think we have found is not just a new heart for the British Museum, but a great new public plaza for London".
Finally, walk briskly north for 20 minutes or so until you reach Euston Road. Look to your right, where St Pancras station stands, and there, crouched alongside, is the brand new British Library building. It has taken longer to construct than some medieval cathedrals, and was finally opened by the Queen last Thursday. These new buildings have been paid for in different ways. The Sainsbury extension to the National Gallery was financed by the family whose name it bears before Lottery money became available. The Sainsburys have also contributed handsomely to the Royal Opera House, and to the British Museum, where they are underwriting the new galleries for the African collections. The British Library is by far the most expensive project, at pounds 520m, a sum almost entirely provided by the Government; however John Ritblat, the brilliant property entrepreneur, has paid for a gallery which will house the Library's finest treasures, and Pearson Group, owner of The Financial Times, has also given support. The Royal Opera House, the Tate and the British Museum have employed the now classic formula of Lottery grant plus matching donations from private benefactors. By the way, I calculate that the total cost of these five building projects amounts to pounds 967m. Even leaving out of account the Millennium Dome, this is an enormous sum of money. The 1990s will have been a vintage decade for constructing new cultural edifices in the capital city. Yet in this statement lies paradox. The five institutions confront the same perplexity. They are rich in capital for building projects, yet poorly endowed in income. The British Museum, the National Gallery and the Tate have alike narrowly avoided having to charge entry fees for the first time. At the last moment, the Chancellor of the Exchequer made funds available. None has any significant funds of its own for acquisitions, so the collections have become static. The Royal Opera House, in a desperate move, has just demanded that its pounds 15m a year grant be doubled. But the most pressing case may be the British Library. The British Library is not only the place where one finds the earliest manuscript of the complete New Testament, the oldest surviving Buddhist texts, the Lindisfarne Gospels, two copies of the Gutenberg Bible (the earliest full-scale work printed in Europe using moveable type), the Anglo- Saxon …
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Publication information: Article title: Just Why Are We Wasting So Much Money on the Royal Opera House? Unlike the British Library, the Opera House Is Not Central to the Nation's Cultural Activities. Contributors: Smith, Andreas Whittam - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: June 3, 1998. Page number: 3. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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