Magazine article The Spectator

Just the Tickets

Magazine article The Spectator

Just the Tickets

Article excerpt

Kingsley Amis was never a fan of the Arts Council. Writing in this magazine almost 30 years ago, he described it as a 'detestable and destructive body' whose grants and bursaries 'in effect pay producers, painters, writers and such in advance'. This, he wrote, 'is a straight invitation to them to sod the public, whose ticket money they are no longer obliged to attract, and to seek the more immediate approval of their colleagues and friends instead.' Thus state funding ends up strangling the very culture it purports to foster, leaving the country poorer artistically as well as financially.

A valedictory speech delivered this week by Liz Forgan, the outgoing head of the Arts Council, made clear that she regards arts as a government service - and government cuts as an attack on the arts. Worse, she seems to believe that, in Britain, the arts are appreciated only because children take exams in dancing, fine art, music etc. She is appalled that the government is now encouraging pupils to study more academically rigorous courses. This, says Ms Forgan, will leave children 'dangerously exposed'. In her bizarre worldview, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has 'almost the most important cultural job there is'.

The debate over arts has evolved much as Amis predicted. When government starts to take over provision of the arts, he said, bureaucrats will make an invidious distinction. On the one hand, you would have the 'artists' who produce serious, important, often impenetrable stuff - and so, of course, will need a subsidy. Then come the 'entertainers' who produce work which 'is easy to understand, enjoyable and therefore popular - like rock music and John Betjeman's poetry and whose very claim to the label "creative" is shaky.' The entertainers are to be sneered at.

At the root of Forgan's thinking is snobbery - the idea that 'art', as opposed to entertainment, is too complicated to be understood or supported by the ordinary public. Any time a politician questions the state's involvement in the arts, a regiment of handsome, articulate and charismatic thespians pop up to say the brutish government wants to close theatres. Yet theatres supported by the Arts Council are vastly outnumbered by thousands of companies that manage to get by just fine on ticket sales and private donations.

Two years ago, the actor Kevin Spacey gave a speech at a Spectator event saying he had drawn two conclusions from his time as the artistic director of the Old Vic theatre in London. First, that there is huge and instant public demand for challenging theatrical productions - if they are produced with enough professionalism and flair. …

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