Popular Posts

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Double Whammy!

I refer, of course, to the double whammy facing the arts just now: the reorganisation of The British Council on the one hand, and the Arts Council's changed criteria for the award of funding on the other. I blogged on this latter subject a few days ago and will not repeat myself now, but will add one further thought: James Purnell, minister for the arts, spoke glibly of a new Renaissance waiting in the wings, yet to the best of my knowledge the first one was not launched on the back of hand-outs but on commissions. For me this conjures up (pure fantasy, I know, but in the arts, fantasies have been known to inspire breakthroughs) the idea that commissions might be the democratic, transparent, safer way for a minister to go - not for all art forms, perhaps, but for some. Just consider: the public could see clearly where its money was going, and register its approval or disapproval accordingly; the government would get back something tangible for its cash and if it (or the public) did not like what it got, could always sell it on eBay! As I say, just a thought...

The case of The British Council is rather different. The British Council has an important role to play in the arts at an international level. Its most glamorous responsibility is the organization of the British Pavilion and display at The Venice Bienniale. It selects the artist to represent us, arranges insurance and all the necessary support systems, it smooths the way when exhibitions are arranged in "difficult" foreign climes. Its services are indispensable to those taking part and those services depend upon the expertise and knowledge of a few dedicated professionals.

Yet it is not a dedicated arts organization, it has a political role which, as I understand it, is now showing itself as its primary role. For reasons which have nothing to do with the arts and everything to do with politics, the various "wings" of the British Council are to be merged and those dedicated professionals will have to reapply for whatever jobs will be created by the reformed organization. The great fear is that the necessary expertise will be lost or diluted, and what is fuelling the great fear is a total lack of knowledge. Where now, the government's famed transparency?