Vir Cantium

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Why A 30% Cut To The Arts Council Isn't Enough

Ed Vaizey MP

Ed Vaizey: Fighting the Good Fight

In today’s Telegraph, Rupert Christiansen argues that …

courage and quality should be rewarded

… when it comes to funding the arts. Ah, so clearly he opposes state arts funding and allowing audiences themselves to decide what’s worth supporting.


Within Jeremy Hunt’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport, Ed Vaizey is the junior minister with special responsibility for the arts.

I can tell that he is not a happy bunny.

I have never seen anyone who looks as bored, truculent and uneasy as he does. I guess he hates the job and that either he has lost all interest in the arts themselves and is sick of their acolytes shouting abuse at him, or else he doesn’t really believe in the regime of cuts he has been charged to execute.

As a father of two small children who can do their fair bit of whining and moaning, I would have every sympathy with Ed Vaizey if he’s tiring of the shroud waving and teeth-gnashing of the arts establishment.

As it happens, I don’t entirely support the “regime of cuts” … because they don’t go far enough.

Should this man have the power to decide which arts organisations receive grants from government?

No, because no arts organisation should receive grants from government simply to support their management or productions.

an Arts Council that keeps government at arm’s length from matters of artistic discrimination, remains the least bad option. I raise two cheers for its survival.

But the Arts Council, like it or not IS government, regardless of the niceties of the “arm’s length” arrangements. It is a pointless body.

The ACE will publish its judgements at the end of March. The process of culling must be agonising, and I don’t suppose there will be positively good news for many. But I hope that success will be rewarded without fear or favour

The money must be fairly spread across centres of population, to ensure that everyone has reasonable annual access to some opera, ballet, theatre, classical music and contemporary art.

Firstly, we’re not talking about A&E services here; ensuring access across geographical areas is not essential.  Secondly, why do “we” think people must have access to “contemporary art” or ballet? The apparent altruistic tones of the arts establishment often belies a snobbery that they alone are the best judges of what is required for the cultural nourishment of the great unwashed.

Size of audiences is not a criterion: it’s assessment of quality that should be paramount, subjective though this may be.

Bingo; there is the fundamental problem. Morally you should seek to maximise the audience, because they have all (by and large) been coerced into paying for said productions. Any official judgement of what is quality can only ever be a poor attempt to reflect the wisdom of the audience as a whole, so let’s leave it to them; if it’s good enough, they’ll pay to see it, if it isn’t then it certainly doesn’t warrant state funding.

Through education and outreach programmes, the arts can do their bit to offer uplifting opportunities to disturbed youths, deprived housing estates and the sick and elderly.

True, but then it’s not really arts funding; its funding for services for youth, the deprived (of what?) the sick and elderly and should be judged on those outcomes alongside other non-arts based policies and programmes – and that won’t involve an Arts Council nationally or locally.

But the arts do not have value only as extensions of the welfare state. They do not merit our attention or a tiny tithe of our taxes because they make us good citizens or even because they cheer us up. They must be supported simply because they are the supreme expression of our humanity.
Imagine a world without art, imagine a nation without plays, orchestras or paintings. Imagine a people who did not sing or write poetry or have any concept of beauty. You cannot.

No I cannot imagine such a world. Arts are a natural by-product of human civilisation. In other words, they would happen – and have happened for millennia – without public subsidy, be it from a tiny tithe or otherwise.

To be fair, though, there is quite  a bit in the article that I agree with, such as the use of Arts Lottery money (which at worst I am agnostic about, since the money was given voluntarily), and the piece ends on a question whose sentiment I can very much agree with….

And, remind me, what exactly does a Minister for the Arts do anyway?

… not least because for “arts” one can substitute a plethora of government functions.


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