Yesterday’s lecture ran through some of the funds distributed (mostly by government) to creative artists, and discussed the pros and cons of public funding itself (you remember: on the one hand ‘isn’t it better to spend government money on lovely plays and opera instead of war? A civilised country needs a diverse, broad and vibrant culture; without public funding we’d get a Macdonaldisation of art in this country, lots of commercially viable projects like X-Factor and Dan Brown, but none of the breadth and richness we currently enjoy’ and on the other ‘why should 90% of the Arts Council music budget go to Opera and only 1% to jazz, when Opera is a minority and worse a posh-person’s taste? Using taxpayers money to build and run the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden means that working class people are effectively subsidising the passtimes of wealthy-people. How does it help the arts to keep alive dead forms of cultural expression like opera, theatre and museums nobody wants to visit. The Arts Council talk about providing the art that people want, but if an artform is one that people really want (like cinema or pop music) then it will be commercially viable enough not to need public funding–and only cultural elitists would deny that genuine and significant art is produced in the popular cultural idiom’). Then I talked about the lengthy infliuence of Arnold’s ideas of culture, and the Leavisite belief that ‘English’ (broadly conceived) should be one of the cornerstones of public education in this country. We then looked at this Arts Council glossy brochure, ‘What People Want From the Arts’, and suggested ways of parsing its rather blandly generalised prose and its studiedly multicultural images, to arrive at a tacit governmental belief that art has a public utility in terms of promoting social cohesiveness in an increasingly multicultural Britain: which is to say, when the pamphlet says things like: ‘The arts can help build people’s capacity for understanding and navigating the world. They can help people express themselves and communicate with others, offering an alternative “language” to help people understand each other better’, and ‘Art … bring[s] people together, creating links between different communities’, we can read the subtext: ‘perhaps if we in government put public money into the arts it will help avoid race riots and terrorism.’ A slightly reductive take on Arnold’s view of culture, but one worth considering I suppose.
I promised to put here on the blog the links I went through in the lecture, so here they are. Check out in the first instance:
The Arts Council of England. (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own separate councils; a swift google will locate them)
British Arts: Arts Funding website. Lots of links here.
Arts and Humanities Research Council website: for research rather than creative work.
In class we discussed a piece of avant garde theatre involve four ugly naked men undergoing primal scream therapy on stage for three hours, to be called (as I recall, at the suggestion of the class) Gorillas in the Mist: Four Ugly Naked Men Undergoing Primal Scream Therapy For Three Hours. I leave it to you to work out which funding body would be first port of call to help finance this project. Remember to stress the community, diversity and creative potential of the piece. [AR]