Why All the Drama over Arts Spending?

Article excerpt

Byline: ALLAN MASSIE

SOME years ago I was a member of the Scottish Arts Council. Some of the work was interesting and so were the people I met and came to know.

But I was happy to get out. I didn't think I was doing much good and full council meetings seemed a waste of time since almost everything had already been decided by the officials. In any case, there were too many people around the table to make worthwhile discussion possible.

Ideally, all art forms should be able to survive in the marketplace and be self-supporting. Literature mostly is. Only a very small percentage of SAC money is spent on it. Other popular art forms such as pop and rock music neither get nor need subsidy. Until quite recently commercial theatre flourished in Scotland, as it still does, unsubsidised, in the West End of London.

The great merit of living in the marketplace is that you have to find, please, and keep a public. The more you are subsidised, the less need there is to do this. The people you have to please are those who dish out the subsidies.

This makes for coterie art.

I t can even lead to a contempt for the public.

It would be best if theatre companies, orchestras and galleries were sufficiently well-endowed to be able to flourish on the income from that endowment and on earned income from audiences.

Unfortunately, we are a long way from that.

So most people now accept the arts require public money, which, however, is given grudgingly and, generally, in such a way that the arts exist in a perpetual financial crisis.

Then, because politicians are often uninterested in the arts u and suspect that the electorate has no great enthusiasm either u they seek to justify the spending of this money by drawing attention to the economic benefits to be derived from the arts; or, nowadays, by seeking to link arts spending to policies intended to promote what they call 'social inclusion'. Arts spending therefore becomes a means to an end, not an end in itself.

These benefits may exist. Social inclusion may be desirable. But such justifications are not necessary. The only good reason for subsidising the arts is that art is good in itself. You can add, if you like, that a civilised nation is one in which the arts flourish. …