Magazine article Insight on the News

Millennium-on-Meridian

Magazine article Insight on the News

Millennium-on-Meridian

Article excerpt

Great Britain is reinventing itself as it prepares for midnight,Year 2000 -- Greenwich Mean Time.

With the Labour Party gaining power in Great Britain after 18 years of conservative government, London has become a happening town, transformed by an adoring media into the new capital of an almost-unified Europe.

The city's spirit of confidence and optimism stems in part from an influx of money from around the world. A burgeoning skyline punctuates the mood, along with ambitious plans, known as the Millennium Experience, for celebrating the century's end.

Indeed, London has become something of a theme park of ideas, spurred on in part by a 1993 law mandating that billions of pounds of lottery revenues go to capital-improvement projects in the fields of art and architecture. (Most such projects require matching funds from the private sector.) The centerpiece of the millennium scheme is something described as the world's largest supported dome: a billion-dollar "flying saucer" construction whose purpose remains a secret.

In spite of budget cutbacks at many of Britain's most notable arts institutions, the government seems determined to put forward me idea of culture as a viable progressive and economic force. Toward that end, the name of the Department of National Heritage was changed six months ago to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport -- known informally as the culture ministry.

"My department's old name was backward-looking and did not do justice to the range of work we cover," said culture minister Chris Smith, announcing the change. "It is a department concerned with many of the things that affect people's day-to-day lives ... to promote everything from Beefeaters to Britpop."

Key officials in the new ministry are steeped in the fine-arts world. "There is a totally new policy in that, for the first time, a government is taking these areas of the arts and culture very seriously" says Mark Fisher, a playwright and film producer who is serving as arts minister. "The feeling is that, while we have been good in the past in Britain, we haven't had a government to see its significance and importance, to see arts and culture contribute to both economic and social objectives. We believe that our cultural life is one of the ways community identity is expressed ... that gives a whole political perspective to the department."

Millennium madness, however, seems central to projecting Britain as a more spirited and caring country, one determined to cast off stuffy remnants of nostalgia in favor of novelty and experimentation. …

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