Saturday, April 19, 2008

Art For Art's Sake

This week I listened to a BBC programme about funding the arts, if you want to know why we have a problem in this country with arts funding then this programme was the one to listen to. Margaret Hodge, Minister for Culture, Creative Industries and Tourism, made a real hash of trying to justify what is being done. Apparently we are now trying to fund the arts through excellence. So whose criteria of excellence are we going with here? My idea of excellent is clearly not the same as many other people.

Of course the whole thing is about money. Who gets their hands on the dosh and what will they be allowed to spend it on. Why shouldn’t pop music get arts funding? Why should highbrow arts get a larger slug of the funds? I presume it’s because those who make those decisions prefer going to opera than a gig by Kasabian. Of course trying to balance culture and the creative industries is just the start of what is a major problem. Ms. Hodge tried to balance support of a local football team with people in Gateshead’s love for the Angel of the North. The minister like her boss the PM is obsessed by excellence. What she wants is for people only to go to excellent concerts not ones that aren’t. And whose deciding what is excellent? Ms Hodge is the minister who criticized the Proms as being exclusive and not culturally all embracing. So would she suggest we don’t fund an Indian music project because Caucasians are not naturally drawn to go and experience what is a potentially wonderful night of music. The fact is not everything appeals to everyone all of the time – what she’s saying is it’s not about the art itself it’s about the audience. Politics and culture very definitely don’t mix.

Mind you, the minister was left standing by Colin Tweedy - Chief Executive of Arts & Business - who made her look like an intellectual colossus. He argued that feral kids, his words, should be got off the streets by allowing them the opportunity of going to hear Beethoven or see a Titian. He argued that a child who understood their own body through going to a dance class was going to be better off than a footballer. His argument finished up by saying that a dancer could go on to be a choreographer after they finished dancing whereas a footballer was all washed up at thirty. I suspect there are more ex-footballers working in football than there are ex-dancers working in dance. I’m not arguing that football is better than dance, it’s just that the elitist arrogance of people like Mr. Tweedy achieves very little.

Add to this two other stellar examples of what’s going wrong. I was in London this week walking through the underground when I came upon a poster advertising the London Gay and Lesbian film festival. Hmmm, does this mean I cannot go and watch them because I’m not gay? Don’t be silly I thought, it must mean that they are films made by gay and lesbian filmmakers. So why should they have their own film festival? Our desire to be culturally diverse gets in the way of what we’re trying to achieve. I wouldn’t mind betting they got government money.

It’s the same as the Orange Prize for women writers; what’s wrong with men writers having a men only competition? Why don’t we just all compete with each other? But why do we try and compete at all in the arts? It’s about trying to promote sales through having winners. I cannot help thinking that we have a tendency in this country to look for individual winners rather than a collective success.

Ultimately this is all about people blowing smoke up each other’s bottoms. Of course we should be using public money to support the arts, but perhaps we should have a less elitist, London centric approach to the whole thing. What we should very definitely not be doing is judging excellence in the arts before we give money to support them.

1 comment:

Semaj Mahgih said...

Apparently we are now trying to fund the arts through excellence. So whose criteria of excellence are we going with here?

Oh my goodness, Richard. After the CP meeting with the Scottish Arts Council, one really wonders.