But is it Art?

A few weeks ago, the new Government announced a £19M cut in funding for Arts Council England. Jeremy Hunt followed this up by binning the UK Film Council, since when we’ve had British film and theatre luminaries such as Sam West and Mike Leigh bemoaning these philistinic acts, and even aged Hollywood megastar Clint Eastwood has had his say; he doesn’t like it either, incidentally. It’s hardly surprising that in tough times this film funding quango has received the chop. It is clearly regarded as inessential, and a luxury, and in many ways it is. Farming in this country receives a significant amount of Government subsidy, and no-one would argue against this; we all do need to eat, after all. I can’t think of another industry which is funded to a similar extent to the Arts, and many would argue that the industry needs to become self-sufficient. If exhibitions are put on, plays are written and performed, and films are made that people want to see, they will pay good money to do so, and the industry can be considered a success. The League football industry, for example, receives no funding from the Government; in one sense the opposite is true, and the expectation is that the clubs will give back something to the local community.

But what are the plays, films and Art that make the money? Here are some examples (off the top of my head admittedly): Titanic, Harry Potter, Spiderman, films with Will Smith, films adapted from Dan Brown, The Mousetrap, things by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Monet exhibitions, Dali on the Southbank. What purpose do many of these serve, save to while away a couple of hours of passive entertainment for the proles? They’re certainly not pushing the boundaries, not making people think, not challenging anyone. They get massive backing because they are bankers. People know they are going to be successful. If nothing existed in the Arts but this, we’d continually be moving in a cycle of blockbuster films, the last night of the Proms and singalonga Joseph. Plays like Enron certainly couldn’t make it to the West End, because no-one’s going to take a punt on a play like this, it’s simply too much of a risk. In fact, the play is brilliant; thought-provoking and entertaining at the same time. It informs, it educates, it keeps you gripped. This is why the Arts Council needs funding; it’s to promote Art which otherwise would have no outlet. I have no interest in seeing funding for traditional art; if someone paints pretty seascapes, and sells them to people who want it on their living room walls, that’s fine, but you have no need to be funded. So long as Government money is being used to fund ground-breaking, thought-provoking Art in any form, then hurrah for that. One might argue that producing something which few people might wish to see (or think they wish to see) has little point, but that view is discredited by the ‘Enron’ argument, which is a play that made it to broadway. Is the job of the Arts to pander to the public? Certainly not, otherwise we’d be piling money into the sort of tosh mentioned above.

Of course much of the problem lies with the fact that the Arts are seen as elitist in this Country, but that’s more to do with the perception than the reality. There’s no dress code for any theatre in London that I’m aware of, and top prices tend to plateau at about £60. You can often get a decent seat for around the £20 mark. Sam West was on the radio this week talking about his campaign to get a minumum wage of £400 per week for the actors in a recent Shakespeare. Compare this with a visit to Chelsea FC (or any of the top clubs). This is the home of the working class individual, and lacks the elitism of the Arts world. Here you pay around £60 for a ticket, and for this you get to watch people entertain who earn around £100,000 per week. Hasn’t elitism been turned on its head? Football used to be for the people, but now it’s for the people who can afford to shell out £1825 for a season ticket at Arsenal.

You could go and see the Moustrap about 50 times for that price.