Friday Ephemera

Just Don’t Call It a Hustle

Arts Council luminary and devout Guardianista Dame Liz Forgan, of whom we’ve spoken previously, has had a rather grand leaving do costing just north of £8,000. A mere bagatelle compared to the £50,000 spent on two Arts Council Christmas parties. However, the Telegraph’s Stephen Pollard isn’t overly impressed:

There could be no clearer demonstration of the contempt that Dame Liz, who exudes the haughty sense of self-worth and entitlement that typifies the arts establishment, has for the rest of us that she chose a drinks party funded by the taxpayer to attack the Government for cutting the arts budget.

A budget that’s been slashed by a hair-tearing 2.6%. Yes, our insufficiently leftwing and therefore evil government is, we’re warned, practically “robbing a generation of its birthright.” 

It’s fair to say Mr Pollard is none too keen on the Arts Council, and not entirely without cause: 

The Arts Council is a body set up specifically to ignore the public’s wishes and provide an income to organisations that they would not receive through the free choices made by consumers… Arts Council England makes sure that “street artists” (buskers is, it seems, a derogatory term) are well looked after: in the recent past, Zap street art in Brighton has received £25,000 a year; Circus Space (a leading provider of “circus education”) has been given £70,000 a year, and Circomedia has been handed £80,000 to train street artists. One might have thought that buskers got their money from passers-by, depending on whether or not they were any good. Apparently, it is much more sensible to take money from taxpayers and simply hand it over.

Those familiar with the assumptions of our official taste-correcting caste will not be altogether surprised, and the readiness with which the Arts Council sets fire to public money is hard to overstate. In 2006 – to take a year at random - the following artistic projects were beckoned to the taxpayer’s teat. £20, 470 was handed to a “participatory photography and self-advocacy project” for East London’s “female sex workers,” while £15,000 found its way into the hands of those hosting “Malian mudcloth and DJ workshops.” A more modest amount, a mere £4,950, was felt necessary for “research and development to explore the writing of a poetry and music show examining issues of cultural identity and sexuality.” Despite the funding, no poetry or music need actually be produced and no show need materialise. The five grand was merely to facilitate the exploration of such things. 

Joshua Sofaer’s artistic project Meeting the Public is described thusly: “A range of initiatives which combine production, research and professional development. They are brought together as a body of work in a collaborative relationship with a producer and a particular kind of active engagement.” All very cryptic and no further explanation is offered, but evidently the project served some pressing cultural need, thereby receiving £31,889. Also funded was the “research” of “live art practitioner” Helena Bryant, whose mission was to “establish the performance persona of Sally Bangs, through an inquiry into intimacy and engagement in performance encounters thematically based on love-sickness and exploring the pathology of erotic love.” When not funding “research” trips to Mongolia, Cuba and the frozen poles, the Arts Council uses your money to bankroll Greenpeace, whose no doubt unbiased “programme of educational activities” coined the handsome sum of £66,795. I could, of course, go on. But such are the mighty talents deemed deserving of your money – which is to say, obviously, more deserving than you

My local publicly-funded galleries of contemporary work, one of which is a glorified coffee shop for two dozen middle-class lefties, can be relied on to disappoint - and to go on disappointing precisely because there’s no obvious mechanism for correction. No box office takings to fret about, no bums on seats, no ghastly commercial metrics need be considered. And so the featured artists, or pseudo-artists, can expect taxpayers to serve as patrons, whether they wish to or not, while being immune to the patron’s customary discrimination between promising art and opportunist flim-flam. The expectation that one must be exempt from base commerce, and by extension the preferences of one’s supposed audience and customers, is an arrangement that rewards and encourages the peddling of drek. Yet Liz Forgan and her associates would have us believe that an interest in visual culture, music, etc., should coincide with an urge to make others pay for whatever it is that tickles you, or for whatever is deemed to improve the species by Liz Forgan and her colleagues, i.e., People Loftier Than Us. Though one might still wonder how the coercive public subsidy of fatuous posturing and god-awful tat became a permanent function of the welfare state. One might also ponder this. The unspoken ethos of the Arts Council is, and always has been, We Have Your Wallet And We Know What’s Best™. And yet somehow they’re the victims.