Yesterday, the Arts Council announced its National Portfolio. These are the arts organisations who are to be given long term (three-year) funding. It’s been a bloody and horrible day. Of the previous 791 regularly-funded organisations, 206 have been axed altogether. Around 100 have had their funding cut. Around 220 have had their funding frozen or increased below inflation, which means a real-terms cut over the next three years. Roughly 260 are being given boosts in their grants and 104 companies have been brought into three-year funding for the first time. Some terrific, important companies have been cut altogether - Third Angel, Reckless Sleepers, Shared Experience, for example - but some terrific, important companies are being funded for the first time - Clod Ensemble, Slung Low, Eclipse, Gecko, dreamthinkspeak, Coney and the Manchester International Festival, for example.
Actually, I think the Arts Council has done a near-miraculous job, a much better job than the Coalition deserves. They could have enacted a programme of swingeing vandalism - axe the Royal Opera House’s annual £28.3m for example - and let the Coalition take the hurt. They’ve been, in fact, forward-looking and creative.
Almost more than the cuts, I have been angered and depressed by the stupidity and vulgarity and sheer triumphalism shown by the anonymous comment-boxers who have been jeering as tens of thousands of creative people lose their jobs.
Fact: the arts make more money for Treasury than they take. It’s not a choice between hospital beds and the arts. The arts pay for those hospital beds.
Cutting the arts will mean adding to the deficit. People will lose their jobs, and their taxes won’t flow to the Treasury and they’ll need to be paid income support. And the added value produced by the arts will start to dry up.
But if it makes a profit, then why does it need funding? The arts as a whole make a profit but individually the picture is varied. What funding does is allow the risk to be spread. It also means that the individual artists are freed to pursue artistic goals rather than narrowly economic ones. Over the last fifty years, it’s clear that experiment has been commercially successful across the world. Think of the international success of companies like Complicite; think of the global success of plays by Bond, Ravenhill, Kane, Stephens. Think of The Rocky Horror Show which started upstairs at the Royal Court. None of that work would have been created if the artists were having only to think of returning profits to an individual investor. From Jean Seberg to Carrie to Voyeurz, work made with a direct eye on making money has flopped embarassingly. The longest running comedy in West End history? No Sex Please We’re British. Flopped on Broadway, never performed elsewhere. Sarah Kane’s Blasted? Performed across the world, celebrated as an example of British cultural vitality.
Also, there is a pervasive and completely false belief that somehow the subsidised arts are ringfenced and separate from the rest of the arts. How many actors, directors, designers or writers spend their entire working lives in the commercial sector? A handful, I’d imagine. The subsidised sector supports the commercial sector; there’s a two-way traffic between them. Les Miserables started at the RSC. Danny Boyle started at the RSC and Royal Court. Cameron Mackintosh has been a recipient of Arts Council funding, for God’s sake. You can’t lift the subsidised arts out of the national picture without damaging the whole creative industry.
And let’s also remember that the arts are hugely accountable to their audiences. I understand that, on average, state subsidy accounts for less than half of the subsidised theatre’s income. The rest is box office and private sponsorship. But also - and we don’t trumpet this enough - it’s by artists themselves. We all do work for free or for negligible fees that I doubt is widespread in private industry. Most theatre artists, I would guess, spend the first 2-3 years working for no payment at all. If they build up a reputation, a following, and a distinct creative voice, then they might start connecting with more established companies, buildings and so on, and eventually they might start being considered eligible for funding. The theatre industry is mainly subsidised by theatremakers themselves. The fringe would not survive without this private subsidy.
None of these arguments seems to be well-known. It’s disturbing to see stupid myths ignorantly parroted by people who should know better (step forward Quentin Letts).
But what is most shocking is the tone. Look at these extracts:
This on the BBC’s coverage:
• Didn't the arts council pay thousands of tax payers money for sheep to be painted in a field and then for the artist to take photos? It's about time the government stopped wasting our money on people who can't be bothered to get a real job and who only entertain the minority.
• Because art is only a perception with no intrinsic value of itself, it should never have attracted tax payer's money in the first place
• Good. Until they don't need to cut any more police or hospital staff they should carry on cutting Arts funding. I would rather a Copper patrolling the streets than some Art piece anyday.
• Just fund it from people who are interested in it - charge entry, sell subsriptions, sell tickets, whatever. I can't bear to think of people struggling with their everyday lives through no fault of their own meanwhile artists and dancers are getting cash for entertaining a few people. If you want more cash, do more paintings or more dancing or something. Simples!
• Well done the Government ! Why should my taxes be spent on various hairbrained events and other people's personal enjoyment?
• "The Arts" should be funded privately by those who hold and interest in such things. I literally don't know anyone who is interested in the arts, most would prefer the cash to be spent on something more useful. We have a couple of arty roundabouts in our town which are huge wastes of money, and quite ugly. Their only value is for giving driving direction like "turn right at the ugly roundabout."
• Most Art is just visual masturbation
• About time they stopped wasting money on ths rubbsh!!
• One word- luvvies!
This on the Guardian’s coverage:
• I rather set fire to the money than give a penny to the arts.
• The more I hear from the art world, the more cuts I want.
• Theatre/Opera or Cancer drugs?
A no brainer for most working class people.
There, of course is nothing to stop you paying for art out of your own pockets and not those of the tax payer.
• I wish the government would just abolish the ACE and cut public subsidy of all arts.
Any artist or craftsman worthy of that title will find a market for their art or craft.
As for the myriad arts 'administrators' and 'facilitators': perhaps its time they did an honest day's work for their pay.
• The BBC being a point in case. Despite the commercially funded HBO producing Television the multibillion taxpayer funder BBC can only dream about.
If 'art' can’t stand on its own feet financially it deserves to die, because that means that not enough people care about it.
The days of Labour funding “Black-Lesbian-Vegan” Theatre groups are over!
• I find it utterly bizarre that these pages are being festooned with articles and supporters who genuinely believe that certain forms of entertainment which can't pay their own way ought to be financed out of the public purse.
• Sorry Mr Edgar, but as I've said in the last four or five threads on this topic, if you can't put bums on seats, don't give up the day job.
I'm not in the business of subsidising your lifestyle choices out of my taxes. Those days are gone.
If we're talking about this or pre-school funding, or public libraries, or the NHS, the arts is going to lose out every time. Get used to it.
• As a toiler in that particular field myself for many years, I can tell CiF readers that as a generality people working in the arts are amongst the most arrogant,, pretentious and self-serving tossers you will ever meet. The arts in Britain are run by a cosy job-swapping clique.
When someone says something untrue, he or she must either be ignorant or a liar. I’m not sure which is true here; mostly, I think these people’s attitudes have been twisted by hatred, misanthropy, and an incredible worship of money. They resent paying 13p a week for the arts. They believe, like some vile religious principle, that all value neatly and cleanly translates into economic value. In fact, some of them believe that there are no values other than economic values. They frequently dismiss artistic value as subjective as if that makes a big fucking difference. Having an orgasm is a subjective experience; doesn’t make it a meaningless one. They mock modern art that they know nothing about (the lump of wood?); they foster ludicrous paranoid fantasies about left-wing theatre (“Black-Lesbian-Vegan”), that probably were never true and certainly aren’t now; they trumpet their ignorant contempt like its a sign of honour (“I literally don't know anyone who is interested in the arts” being my jaw-dropping favourite).
Interestingly, they condemn themselves through their witless, pompous, awkward attempts at wit and humour. The gleeful dismissal of things they don’t understand, the dreadful, stupid arguments, the brandishing of prejudice; what does all this add up to? A degrading of mind and spirit, a disgusting philistinism at all levels. Let’s remember that these people - these nutters who bother to comment on these articles, who seek out opportunities to spread hate and derision - they are a minority. They are the few who don’t care about art. But this minority are in the ascendent and they are the reason we must hold our nerve and fight back. We need art more than ever because this is the march of the artless.