Magazine article The Spectator

A Study in Spending

Magazine article The Spectator

A Study in Spending

Article excerpt

There used to be a time in the arts when actors acted, singers sang, dancers danced and administrators, well, administered. While the arts are no more immune to change than any other area of activity, actors, singers, dancers and all the other artists are still doing their thing. It is the administrators who are worrying me.

I have always assumed that the most important quality an administrator must have is the ability to make decisions. The more powerful the administrator, the bigger the decisions he or she must make. Not any more. At least, not where Lottery money is involved. If you are an arts administrator and you have a project for, say, a new theatre that you think should attract Lottery funding, we might all be forgiven for assuming you know where you want to put your theatre, how big it will be and, roughly, to the nearest million or two, how much it is likely to cost.

The biggest game in London today as far as the Lottery is concerned is called the `feasibility study'. In fact, the Arts Council is getting a bit edgy about the term and is now calling it `development work'. What it actually means, though, is that you ask the Lottery for money to help you decide if you should ask the Lottery for more money.

Don't laugh. It is a thrilling game that any number can play. The South Bank Centre in London got 2 million to help it decide to apply for 127 million to tart itself up. English National Opera are unhappy at the Coliseum but the poor dears cannot decide whether to spend 50 million redeveloping it or whether to move to another site altogether. To help them make up their minds, they have been given 1.3 million for a feasibility - sorry development work.

Such is the flexibility of the game, any arts administrator large or small can have the fun of avoiding making a decision. The Cornwall Arts Network in Penwith, for example, has been given more than 27,000 to fund a study `to consider the implementation and viability of an arts information service and networked box-office system for Cornwall'. I am sure 27,000 will pay for a lot of time to consider their dilemma.

Then there are the city fathers in Carlisle. They are in a dither about whether to convert the secondary hall of the Sands Centre to a performance venue or whether to have a new building altogether. They have been awarded 60,000 to help them make up their minds. And at Sevenoaks in Kent, the Hextable School is not sure whether it really needs a community arts centre devoted to dance - so it has been given 45,000 to try to find out. …

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