Cathedral of Shit

has taken a well earned GAP year

What’s so bad about the Arts Council?

Posted by cathedralofshit on November 25, 2010

Eager to know how the House of Common’s Committee on Culture, Media and Sport is going? Go on, yes you are! Well, basically the Arts Council are getting a thorough going-over from the likes of Dr Tiffany Jenkins, Norman Lebrecht and David Lee (the “maverick” ex-editor of Art Review and the current editor of that well-known arts mag “The Jackdaw”). Here’s the uncorrected transcript of the latest session, and scroll down halfway to get past the boring stuff about heritage to Tom Watson’s question “What’s so bad about the Arts Council?”
(nb – just added full transcript below in comments).

Our favourite bits are David Lee offering to send ex-chicklit novelist and now surprisingly rather sharp Tory MP Louise Bagshawe the last 8 copies of The Jackdaw (she refuses).

6 Responses to “What’s so bad about the Arts Council?”

  1. HERE IT IS IN FULL —>

    Witnesses: Mr David Lee, Editor, The Jackdaw, Dr Tiffany Jenkins, Arts and Society Director, Institute of Ideas and Mr Norman Lebrecht, writer and commentator, gave evidence.

    Q333 Chair: Good morning. Can I welcome the three of you to the second part of this morning’s session and, in particular, welcome David Lee, the editor of The Jackdaw, Dr Tiffany Jenkins, of the Institute of Ideas, and Norman Lebrecht.

    Tom Watson, we will start with you.

    Q334 Mr Watson: Good afternoon. Thanks for hanging around for us. What is so bad about the Arts Council?

    Dr Jenkins: If I start, I don’t think the Arts Council should be scapegoated for a number of problems within the arts sector. That would be my first point. I think what you’ve seen, over the last 15 to 20 years, is a diminishing of what the arts are for, across society, that has been reflected in arts organisations. Initially they were-I think under the Tories-asked to perform some sort of economic output and-under Labour-social outputs. I think that has impacted upon the Arts Council but they’re not responsible for that, and I think there has been a recognition of that within arts organisations. So I think that shift has been recognised and pulled back from.

    Mr Watson: Norman?

    Mr Lebrecht: I’m probably not going to agree entirely with what Tiffany has just said. I’ve spent a part of my professional life looking at the origins and the application of arts funding in this country, which, of course, begins with that incredibly romantic moment at the end of the war where Maynard Keynes goes to Cabinet and says, “We’re facing an economic Dunkirk. We have no resources. We have no shipping. We have no industry. We have no foreign reserves. We’re probably going to have to impose bread rationing, which we managed to get through the war without doing, and, by the way, I want £500,000 for the arts”. In fact, he received £235,000, which is £9.4 million in today’s terms.

    So the original Keynesian idea, the creation of the Arts Council, was there to do two things: firstly, to stimulate the nation’s creativity at the moment of its lowest economic ebb; to flourish ideas and to create a new industry; and, at the other times, to add to the joy of nations. Keynes kept talking about merry England, “We want to bring merry England back. People are really down after the war. Let’s cheer them up a bit”. So there is an element both of economic benefit in the arts and of adding to the gaiety of the nation.

    Now, what has become of the Arts Council in the period since then-the 65 years since then-is a body that is almost unrecognisable from first principles. First principles were: distribute small sums of money; encourage the arts wherever you think there is a prospect of success. That was Keynes’ channel. Today we have a body that spends more than a quarter of its funding on non-arts projects; on its own administration, on things like social equality and justice and education, and a whole range of things that have nothing to do with the arts. The Arts Council has become quite removed from the process of stimulating, sustaining and encouraging the arts in this country.

    What is wrong with the Arts Council? That’s the chief thing that’s wrong with it. What one can do about it, there are two options: either abolition and reconstruction or reformation of the Arts Council, as it stands now. I think reform is long overdue. I’ve been urging it for well over a decade. This is an organisation that, instead of being itself an incubus for the arts and an incubus for arts administration-some of the best administrators in this country began their professional lives within the Arts Council. Talk to Nicholas Serota at the Tate; he learned everything he knows from a period at the Arts Council. There are two managers of London orchestras who began at the Arts Council.

    Today, we don’t find that any more. What we find are policy wonks, BBC cast-offs; a range of people in mid-life, and in mid-career, who have found themselves a little niche within the Arts Council and are protected by a whole range of political correctness. With respect for the organisation and with respect to everything that it has achieved, that, I think, is what needs the serious reform.

    Q335 Mr Watson: David, reform or abolition?

    Mr Lee: I’m only going to speak about the visual arts, because that’s all I know about, and I would say they have made no case for continued funding of the visual arts. In fact they’ve done precisely the opposite. I think if we were starting a system of funding the visual arts with public money, we’d look at the way we do it now as an example of how not to do it. I think they have, over the last 20 or 30 years, focused on one very small area of art that they have promoted to the exclusion of all the others. If you consider that contemporary art is a very broad spectrum of activity, on one side you might have the still lifes of William Packer, Eric Rimmington, James Gillick-artists you won’t have heard of-and on the other side you have the kinds of work that get nominated for the Turner Prize: piles of ash, piles of clothes, piles of sweets, piles of virtually anything.

    In between there is a whole range of other work, abstract painting, and so on and so forth. Now, the Arts Council has exclusively funded and promoted through its galleries one area of this work and that’s the reason, when the Arts Council funds are cut by 30%, it will affect 1% of artists in this country because the other 99% are effectively disfranchised by them. They know that they are the wrong kinds of artists, because the Arts Council only supports and promotes what it has designated as: the “right kinds of artists” who produce what they call “challenging contemporary art”. It’s an absolute scandal that they have got away with it for so long.

    Q336 Mr Watson: In your recent editorial, where you talk about the £625 million of our money and the Arts Council blathering on about cuts and forecasting a return to the Stone Age, are you saying there is no role for the state to distribute that £625 million?

    Mr Lee: Yes, I’m sure there is in capital investment-heavy arts, like music, theatre and other things-but I think if you’re going to have a system where you support contemporary visual artists, it must recognise excellence wherever it is across this spectrum and not just in one corner. The Arts Council could quite easily save vast amounts of cash by closing the ICA, which has done a terrible job in the last 20 years and whose position and function has been usurped by plenty of other galleries; they could privatise the Serpentine Gallery, which only serves about half a dozen galleries in the West End of London, and they could close down probably half of the other seven galleries in London, which they support and which they encourage to show only the kind of work by young artists working in a conceptual manner.

    Q337 Mr Watson: So none of you are calling for the Arts Council to be abolished; you just think it’s useless at doing its job?

    Dr Jenkins: I think there’s a role for the Arts Council and that is to administer state funding. I think public subsidy is very important for the arts, both because it is practically the best way to do things and also it’s a social good. But I think, in recent times, the priorities of the arts sector in general-not just the Arts Council, although they do epitomise it-has been extrinsic to the arts, i.e. instrumental purposes. So in that context I think they have become disorientated and you have had the emergence of all sorts of projects that are about participation, not about art. You mentioned the public when you were talking, David. I think that’s one example of many because I think we have a disorientated sector and the purpose of what they do is unclear, and that is when waste happens.

    Mr Lee: The purpose of what they do is very unclear also in their collecting propensities, with the Arts Council Collection. As Norman has indicated, it started as one thing and has transmogrified into something completely different so that now the Arts Council Collection is duplicating the purchases of the Government Art Collection, the British Council and the Tate Gallery. While I was researching yesterday, I came across the fact that the Arts Council has recently bought a work by Jeremy Deller. The Tate Gallery has five major works by Jeremy Deller, four of which are not on display.

    The Arts Council have also very recently bought nine works by Wolfgang Tillmans, a German artist who is a trustee of the Tate Gallery. The Tate Gallery already owns 65 works by Wolfgang Tillmans, none of which is currently on display. Now, you can go across all manner of public bodies and identify these areas of grotesque wastage. I’d like to give you one other example: the Government Art Collection has also recently bought a work by Jeremy Deller. It is exactly the same work which the Tate Gallery already owns and don’t have on show.

    Q338 Mr Watson: Is there any reason why the Arts Council or the Government should be building its own collection?

    Mr Lee: I can’t think of any. I think there is a good case for combining them all together, so that everybody can use the 72,000 works in the Tate Gallery stores that are not on show. If they all had a collection of works from which they could borrow, that would make sense. But there is no point in the British Council having 8,500 works that have been accumulated over 60 years-the same amount of time as the Arts Council collection-if they don’t show them and nobody knows where they are.

    Q339 Mr Watson: So we need a big clear-out is what you’re saying?

    Mr Lee: We need an amazing clear-out and now is the moment. I’d like to give you one other example of my local art gallery, since you’re all talking about your constituencies, my local art gallery in Bury in Lancashire, which a couple of years ago sold a work by LS Lowry. I was dead against it. I don’t think museums should sell assets simply in order to cover the incompetence of local councillors, which was the case in this instance. Now, when I went behind that sale-it fetched, incidentally, £1.4 million; filled the hole in the local council’s budget and also allowed them to build a library in Ramsbottom. I went behind that and, within 10 miles of Bury Art Gallery, there were over 400 works by LS Lowry in public collections, over 350 of which were not on show at any one time. The Whitworth Art Gallery had 25; Manchester City Art Gallery had 20. None of these works was on show. Now, if there was some system for some kind of consensus that you have a general national collection that you can then select from, we wouldn’t have all these problems. We could save a fortune by selling off vast quantities of work that are in stock and are duplicates of what we already have.

    Q340 Mr Watson: Norman, perhaps you could add as well: you recently called for the chair and the chief executive of the Arts Council to resign. Who should they be replaced by?

    Mr Lebrecht: I said that it would have been the honourable thing for them to resign. It would also be the traditional thing and the British thing. When you lose a very public argument and you’re shown to have failed your sector, generally the good thing to do is to step down.

    Mr Watson: You’ve made a contentious comment there. I’m going to push you a little bit. You can’t write a column and say they’ve got to clear off without having some idea of what should-

    Mr Lebrecht: There has to be a public process in which their successor would be chosen. Can I just say, though, before one even gets to that process of choosing a successor or choosing successors, we do need to reconstitute the Arts Council because a large part of it is fiction. Keynes designated it as an arms-length body. Much of what it does is no longer arms-length. It’s not fingernail-length. It’s not even cuticle-length. It is directly manipulated by the Department of Culture. Decisions dealing with the major clients-for the Southbank, for the Royal Opera House, for the National Theatre, English National Opera and the Royal Shakespeare Company-are all made within the Department and rubber-stamped by the Arts Council

    The actual question of the allocation of cuts was dictated by Government and reluctantly accepted by the Arts Council. So there are two issues here. One is: do we then take the major companies and put them within the Department and reconstitute the Arts Council as a God of small beginnings? Or do we recreate the Arts Council as a genuinely independent body-as an advocate for the arts, as a lobbyist for the arts-operating with smaller and much more targeted funds? These, I think, are the big questions.

    Who should lead that organisation? Clearly, as a chair, it has to be someone with the confidence of Government. Again, that has always been the tradition and practice within this country and the present chair belongs to the last Government.

    Q341 Mr Watson: Come on, take a punt; give us a few names.

    Mr Lebrecht: Off the top of my head, and one who would be completely non-contentious and with great experience in administration and in the arts, John Tusa.

    Mr Watson: Not Nicholas Serota?

    Mr Lebrecht: He has a job to do at the Tate.

    Mr Watson: There’s a great position for him to have, isn’t it; chairing the Arts Council?

    Mr Lebrecht: Well, you couldn’t do both. I think it would be tricky to do both.

    Q342 Mr Watson: Let me just draw you-I’m a teasing you a little bit and I shouldn’t; I’m on the Committee and I apologise to the Chairman-on public subsidy for grass-roots artists. Do you think there is a role for public subsidy to stimulate grass-roots artists? You have very big problems with the way the Arts Council is currently organised; the way it provides funds, and I’m trying to get to your philosophy behind that. How can we give public subsidy to make that joyous thing happen that Keynes had a vision for in 1946?

    Mr Lebrecht: Firstly, we support large institutions that are open to all sorts of ideas. That’s the first thing, and that’s non-contentious and that will continue to happen. Secondly, and I think we take Keynes phrase-Keynes’ original phrase, “Those interesting things with a prospect of success”-obviously, you have to have assessors who judge whether somebody who is doing something new, whether it’s in the visual arts or in the performing arts, has a prospect of success, has a viable idea. For that you need a body that contains proper assessors, let’s call it “the Arts Council” for want of something else. I do believe that something like the Arts Council is needed but if it is to be the Arts Council of England then it probably needs a redrafting of its Royal Charter.

    Dr Jenkins: I would agree with that but I would make the point again that the Arts Council doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s not that you have these people on Foxworth Street, or wherever they are now, in Millbank, going against the grain. You have had priorities pushed down from DCMS instructing the arts, across the board, to become centres of social inclusion. You’ve had immense emphasis on participation. I was here this morning listening to the heritage crowd and I heard “Big Society”, “wellbeing”; all these buzz words. It’s entirely understandable, but the point is that they are distorting the arts and they have distorted, to some extent, the Arts Council. So the Arts Council do not exist in a vacuum here. So we have to be very careful that, when we’re assessing what the problem is and how to make it better, we don’t just have a go at the Arts Council and throw some names around.

    Q343 Mr Watson: In 2009 you talked about shrill voices attacking the Arts Council and it’s time we valued what ACE could do rather than removing it altogether. What can ACE do that it isn’t doing now?

    Dr Jenkins: It can focus on artistic merit but it does mean judgements and maybe David would disagree with the judgements they make, and maybe I would-and Norman. But that’s inevitable and that’s not a negative thing. We should always row about what we think is good and why. I don’t think these arguments are being had enough. I think instead we’re talking about participation and moneys being spent on audience research and visitor research and diversity policies, and all these extrinsic and, I think, distorting principles.

    Q344 Mr Watson: I like you three. I like what you write. But what I’m getting from you is, basically, that you don’t agree with the decisions they’ve made but you’re not providing an alternative model of getting these young artists for the future.

    Mr Lebrecht: I’m sorry to interrupt. It isn’t a matter of individual decisions. It is a matter of public probity and of the people who are making these decisions. When you have-and this is without precedent in the history of arts funding-an official from the Department of Culture, who is parachuted into the Arts Council as its new chief executive, then the distance between Government and the Arts Council simply disappears and the decisions that are made become political decisions rather than arts-based decisions. We need to get back to the point where we’re making arts-based decisions and I think we’re probably all agreed on that.

    Mr Lee: I don’t think young artists need the Arts Council to exist in order to produce good work. It’s a complete fallacy. Picasso didn’t apply for an Arts Council grant when he was thinking of inventing cubism. You can almost imagine his application form, “I’m thinking of challenging the notions of depicting space from a transgender perspective”. It’s just nonsense. The work will be created irrespective of the existence of the Arts Council. My point is that if we have public funding of the arts, it shouldn’t be prejudiced in one direction rather than the others. All these galleries that are subsidised by the Arts Council all show the same work by the same general age group of people. They do not show any more like they did when the Arts Council was first formed in its first 30 years-it was almost an exemplary institution for public funding. It funded young artists with work; buying their work for the Arts Council Collection, which is a good use of an Arts Council Collection. It funded people to make historical surveys. It put on retrospectives of elderly artists who needed retrospectives and can’t get them anywhere now.

    But instead what they’ve done is they’ve talked themselves into this corner, where they’re only interested in certain things and we have to clear out the existing organisation and replace it with people who are a little more open-minded, a little more prepared to make visual artistic judgements about the merit of the work on display and show to the public, through these galleries, a vast range of work, some of which they may even like, instead of work that they very probably can’t be arsed to go and see.

    Q345 Mr Watson: Before I hand back to the Chair, just one last thing. You’ve all been going on about the visual arts. Are you making the case that they should broaden their remit to support on minor areas like jazz and things like that, or do you want to stick with the visual arts?

    Dr Jenkins: I think there has been already too much expansion, in terms of what is considered the arts, and you can see that in the heritage discussion earlier on. So I would rather contain it.

    Mr Watson: So you don’t think jazz is art?

    Dr Jenkins: No, jazz can look after itself. It’s fine.

    Dr Jenkins: Yes, but it can look after itself. There’s plenty-

    Mr Lee: Of course it can be. Anything can be. You can have some conceptual art that’s really good and you can have abstract painting that’s really good. There’s excellence in everything and that is what the Arts Council should be promoting and encouraging.

    Mr Lebrecht: Is literature art? Of course it is. But should it be looked after by the Arts Council? No, of course not; it exists within a marketplace.

    Mr Watson: Thank you.

    Chair: Paul has been waiting.

    Q346 Paul Farrelly: Good questioning is an art as well, isn’t it? I haven’t mentioned my constituency yet, but I’m going to now. In Newcastle-under-Lyme we have a wonderful theatre. It’s the New Victoria Theatre. It’s a theatre-in-the-round. It doesn’t live for hand-outs but the Arts Council money is very handy; it helps it to do things it might not otherwise be able to do, such as outreach, giving kids confidence, and so on and so forth. It’s being cut. The Arts Council’s reputation there is high but I suspect that is because the Arts Council, once it gives the money over, hasn’t got its fingerprints all over the New Victoria Theatre.

    At the opposite extreme, when we were questioning the people in the film industry they said, pretty much to a man and a woman, “Whatever happens after the UK Film Council is abolished, don’t give us back to the Arts Council”. So their standing in the film sector, from previous experience, is not high. We’ve heard that their standing in the visual arts sector is not high. Are there other corners or centre stages of the arts sector, where the Arts Council is not considered very highly at all? Which other areas would you point to?

    Dr Jenkins: I think the Arts Council has become a scapegoat for dissatisfaction across the board and that is why, although I’m a critic of the Arts Council, I would be a little bit concerned that we don’t intensify that with a deleterious impact.

    Mr Lebrecht: I think there are pockets of satisfaction, there are pockets of approval and there are pockets of enthusiasm, which are very often a consequence of one particular official, in one particular area, who is doing outstandingly good unsung work. But the organisation as a whole sits very heavily on its officials, much more so than it ever did before. There have been so many management restructures and so much paperwork that needs to be done. It is very difficult for an official to operate independently in the manner intended, in the manner designed in the Royal Charter. In fact I know bodies around the country, theatres around the country, that have made a conscious decision not to apply for Arts Council funding; to stick their neck out and to manage within the marketplace, however tough that might be; because the amount of compliance work that they have to do, for a very small Arts Council grant, hugely outweighs the benefit of that grant.

    Chair: Louise?

    Q347 Ms Bagshawe: I have a supplementary. I’m very interested in the evidence Mr Lee has given, because he has come up with some fascinating specifics about redundancy of investment by the Arts Council into artists that are already represented, over-represented, and in storage. I was just wondering if, Mr Lee, you might consider writing up a few examples, whatever you have, and submitting them to this Committee in writing because I would be interested in follow-up on that. Perhaps, contrary to what Dr Jenkins has been saying, that she doesn’t want the Arts Council to be made a scapegoat of, I have to say that, having sat through evidence from the Arts Council when they were I think “filleted”-is the word that was used by my colleague Tom Watson-we did hear example after example of quite extraordinary waste and redundancy. The evidence Mr Lee has given us today, if true and if it can be backed up, is further evidence of waste and redundancy. I wouldn’t see that so much as scapegoating as perhaps pinpointing obvious, concrete, discrete and measureable failings in the way that the Arts Council is being run. Firstly, would you care to comment on that and, Mr Lee, would you be prepared to submit some papers on that? I’d like to see some further evidence. I think that’s-

    Mr Lee: Sure. I’ll send you the last eight volumes of The Jackdaw if you like. You can have chapter and verse on it.

    Ms Bagshawe: Maybe you can give us a one-sheet so we can-

    Mr Lee: They’ve been incompetent for years, the Arts Council. I remember, when I first started as editor of Art Review in 1991, it struck me as incredible that the people who were the major recipients of visual arts funds were the people who were on the Visual Arts Committee voting themselves that money. It was only after a concerted campaign by that astonishing luminary in these matters, Brian Sewell of the Evening Standard, and myself, that the newspapers got hold of it and had it changed. There are still things like that going on at the Arts Council that ought to be rectified.

    Ms Bagshawe: I’m sure you will recognise that generalities-saying, “the Arts Council is rubbish”, for a start-don’t cut much ice, whereas specifics like, “The Arts Council is buying this artist, of which the Tate already has 65 works in storage that are not available on public view”, that I think is a concrete obvious waste of public money. If you could get me some examples I would appreciate it.

    Mr Lee: Yes.

    Q348 Ms Bagshawe: Dr Jenkins, what is your response then to my counter-argument, if you like, that we are pinpointing specific things, the role of-if maybe not the idea of an Arts Council-a funding body, but the way it is being run at the moment?

    Dr Jenkins: I think, if we want to learn from this experience, we have to look at the underlying influences for those specific examples that you so rightly want. I would say that we have a general distorted understanding of what the arts are for that has influenced decisions made at the arts sector. Now, that’s not to underestimate the influence of the Arts Council but it’s to say that they are not the sole purveyors of this outlook. When you talk about things like theatres giving confidence to local communities, that’s the sort of thing that I’m saying is probably a problem in the arts sector; those glib, rhetorical, social inclusion principles. So it’s not just the Arts Council that’s doing this. It has led to great mistakes being made but if we’re going to learn from it we have to look at the underlying influences.

    Q349 Ms Bagshawe: Dr Jenkins, you know de gustibus non est disputandum : o ne can’t really account for taste and s ome people would argue that the arts do have a wider social role to promot e inclusion and community cohesion , and that is a function, if you like, of the joy of nations and one proper evaluation of considering arts projects, art-based projects and investment in the arts. You reject that?

    Dr Jenkins: I do reject that. I think they will have social consequences. The arts always have done. But once you start prioritising that as the policy imperative then it starts to distort them. It starts to distort what the-

    Q350 Ms Bagshawe: Would you be happier if it were not necessarily a driver of art investment but would you accept it might be properly considered as a corollary?

    Dr Jenkins: It depends what you mean by “properly considered”. I think it will have an accidental outcome-all sorts of social outputs that you cannot predict and always want-but it is not something to be considered in funding applications. It is not something to be considered when you say, “This is the priority of the arts”. It is not how you measure them. As we’ve said, a lot of waste that you may be talking about, will have been spent on trying to estimate those outputs, measure those outputs, study the visitors, ask them how their well-being has been increased. That has been wasteful, I think, and I think you’ll probably find quite a few specific examples of that.

    Ms Bagshawe: Thank you.

    Mr Lebrecht: Can I chip in on specificity? One of the areas where the Arts Council has abdicated responsibility and imposed is in the area of decision-making where equality and fairness became the priority, rather than viability and what is good for the arts. Let me give you two examples. Up until eight years ago the Arts Council never funded chamber orchestras. There was no need to fund a chamber orchestra. If you have an orchestra of 45 players, you can usually recoup what you’re paying them at the box office and a little bit more. However, since it was funding symphony orchestras, it was decided that it was unfair not to be funding chamber orchestras. So they brought them into the fold and now they’ve taken them out of the fold and that made no difference at all; with funding or without funding, chamber orchestras will continue.

    It was always a part of the Arts Council’s duty to seek excellence. Over the past decade three of the London orchestras have had exactly the same funding from the Arts Council, regardless of the fact that one of them operates on very little rehearsal and with very poor programming, very traditional and uninteresting programming; but, no, everyone shall have prizes. Now, the Arts Council exists to say, “This is what we want to support. This is what we think is good. We may be wrong, and we can always turn it around in a year or two if we are wrong but we need to be making those decisions”. Instead it has applied this principle of, “Fairness for all, equality for all, everyone shall have prizes”. That’s what needs to go.

    Ms Bagshawe: Thank you.

    Q351 Chair: The Secretary of State in his instruction to the Arts Council-and you referred to cuticle-length distance between DCMS and the Council-made it pretty clear that he wanted to try and protect the regularly funded organisations, with the result that the discretionary spend is going to be hit disproportionately. It almost begs the question about why you need an Arts Council if the same organisations are going to get the overwhelming majority of the money every year.

    Mr Lee: I agree, and it certainly happens in the visual arts. I think 75% of the money allocated for the visual arts is spoken for as soon as it arrives because it goes to the same people year in, year out, on the nod as it were. That’s something that could be revised, no question about that. They don’t seem to have any kind of justification for their continued funding. It’s just a matter of routine, it seems to me. If you look at the Arts Council reports, in the visual arts, 20 years ago you will find exactly the same list of recipients as receive them now.

    Q352 Chair: But the political difficulty is that a lot of small grants, to relatively unknown people, being removed is not going to cause any great stir. Removing the grant from a well-known institution is going to cause a much greater political storm. So that clearly is why the Government is seeking to try and ensure that doesn’t happen. But is that the right policy?

    Dr Jenkins: What would the alternative be; that you’d have to change who you fund?

    Chair: The Government say to the Arts Council that they should not necessarily assume that the RFOs are the priority to maintain.

    Dr Jenkins: So long as they can justify it on artistic merit-and maybe there is a way of doing that-then I don’t mind if it’s the same organisations. The question is, “Are they the right organisations?” not, “Are they the same organisations?” I think.

    Mr Lebrecht: There is a very strong case for transferring the funding of national institutions into the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. If you were to ask Neil MacGregor at the British Museum would he prefer to be funded directly out of the Department, or through the Arts Council, there would be an unequivocal answer and the same from the heads of any of the museums and galleries. If you put that question privately, possibly even publicly for the record, to the heads of Covent Garden, the English National Opera, the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, I think they would find themselves a good deal more comfortable in central funding.

    Given that the Arts Council does not add value in anything that it does here, it would simply remove a layer of bureaucracy. I think if one put those four into the Department, one could also consider the case of the Southbank Centre, which is the largest recipient of Arts Council revenue. Then I think one would have a slimmer Arts Council and an Arts Council that is much more capable to make the necessary decisions, with institutions that receive £2 million and under. It would be much fitter for it. It would have much less political hassle with the Department because the sums over which it is making the decisions are so much smaller. Then I think one could, out of that perhaps, help to re-stimulate the Keynesian vision.

    Dr Jenkins: I would disagree. I think there is a good reason for a little bit of arms-length principle. I accept what Norman said. I think that has been eroded significantly over the last 10 years, but I think that’s unfortunate.

    Q353 Chair: But you don’t think that those institutions that are funded direct from DCMS-like the British Museum, the Science Museum and all the others-suffer as a result of being directly funded?

    Dr Jenkins: I don’t think it would be improved by getting them formally closer to Government and the DCMS. The DCMS, I’m not convinced, have any kind of different orientation to the Arts Council and I think you just neuter the Arts Council. You hurt it when it’s already suffering some sort of crisis of confidence. I don’t think that will improve the Arts Council and you haven’t challenged the problems underneath it and making it closer, formally, to Government would be-

    Q354 Chair: But is there not a parallel here in the way that the national museums are directly funded, leaving the MLA to concentrate on the museums, to the smaller ones in the regions, and so forth? Could you not apply exactly the same principle to the Arts Council?

    Dr Jenkins: I think what we need to do is rethink the role of the Arts Council and making sure it has artistic equality at the heart of it. I do not want to neuter it or break it up further. I don’t think that would help in any way and I don’t want a situation where regularly funded organisations are moved closer to the DCMS. So keep it as it is, rethink the basis on which we value the arts as a society, and that will strengthen and probably improve the Arts Council. It’s not specific but, as a general kind of outlook, I think that’s what you need to look at.

    Mr Lee: In the visual arts what happens is that the Arts Council does not fund the equivalent of the national companies. The bodies it funds in visual arts have been invented by the Arts Council to show the kind of work that it wants, and I would have said that they shouldn’t pass to the DCMS the nine galleries in London that they fund but we should ask the reason why they’re funding quite so many. Are they essential? Does the Arts Council need to show the same work in nine galleries in London? Nobody else has a say in how those galleries are run and how they’re funded. They’re funded partly by the local authority. But there wouldn’t be any point in having them run by the DCMS because they’re run by ex-employees of the Arts Council and are thoroughly imbued with the Arts Council ethos of challenging contemporary art and absolutely nothing else.

    Chair: Paul?

    Q355 Paul Farrelly: Norman, the former steel-making areas of Stoke-on-Trent and Corby would be united, I think-let alone the Liverpools and Manchesters-in accusing you of being London-centric with your selection of crown jewels. How would you respond to that?

    Mr Lebrecht: Well, the crown jewels are in London, aren’t they? They haven’t been moved from the Tower, or wherever their present repository is, out to Stoke or Corby or Manchester or Liverpool. I think these are purely practical considerations. I am deeply concerned about the impact on the provinces, on the regions of this country, of the present round of cuts and that’s my greatest concern. If the cuts are 10% to 15% over four years, most reasonably well-run organisations are going to be able to accommodate that within general efficiencies. But if they are added to with local authority cuts-as will be the case around the country-that is going to result in a very severe depletion of arts provision in certain parts of the country.

    If I may give just one example, one specific: the best concert hall in the country, second to none, is Birmingham. It also has the best orchestra outside London, and not just outside London. It is an international orchestra of very, very high standing. It receives an Arts Council grant, which is about to be cut. It is also equally dependent on a city council grant that is going to be cut even further. The impact on those organisations, on organisations like the CBSO-and we have a fantastic orchestral revival going on in the provinces, I mean Liverpool, which one would have left for dead five years ago, is now one of the best orchestras in Europe with the hottest conductor. Bournemouth is stirring again. Manchester, they’re doing fantastic work there. I’m afraid in Scotland-it hasn’t quite reached Scotland yet, for all sorts of reasons. But there is an orchestral revival and it’s being threatened, not by the one wave of cuts but by the two waves of cuts. So in my outlook I wouldn’t say that I’m London-centric. My deepest concern at the moment is for performing arts institutions outside of London. I think they are in grave danger at this point.

    Mr Lee: I think Norman is absolutely right about a 15% cut being absorbed. In art galleries around the country, national galleries too, I don’t think the public would notice any difference in what they saw when they went in a gallery if you cut them by 10%, 20%, 30%. Because essentially what a gallery does, whether it’s Manchester City Art Gallery or the Tate, is very simple: they have a collection of very many more works than they can fit on the wall and they choose some of those works and they put them on the wall. A 15% cut to the Tate Gallery is not going to have any effect or impact on that.

    In fact I’d go as far as to say: you could have a five-year moratorium on leaving all works in position in these galleries, so that you could weed out the curators whose only jobs in these galleries is to decide where they’re going to put them next, in what context, next to which work they’re going to put them next. Most people go to galleries to look at their favourite works. One of the outcomes of continued increased funding in national and municipal galleries is that works have been changed round every five minutes, so that regular visitors to galleries can no longer find their favourite works. If you go to Tate Millbank, there’s no way you can find what you saw six months ago because it’s probably been shifted somewhere else and they’ve moved things around. It won’t harm these galleries to leave things in position for a certain number of years and save the cost of moving them about. Nobody will notice any difference.

    Chair: Tom and then David.

    Q356 Mr Watson: David, I’m not going to be tempted to say: you’re making the case for sacking curators and building more walls and hanging art for ever.

    Mr Lee: Well, they’ve got 1,000 at the Tate Gallery and 16 directors. I mean how many directors does it take to take works from the store and put them on the wall?

    Mr Watson: Okay, I have the point. Can I ask about public policy? We’re obviously looking at the effects of the cuts and to see whether, as a Committee, we can recommend to Government practical ways in which they can allow people to enjoy art in Britain more. We’re obviously looking at philanthropic giving and what can be done, in a practical sense, to try and fill the void of cuts. One of the institutions we have had give evidence to us is Arts & Business and they’re recently received their own cuts. I was wondering if you could express your opinion on that organisation’s effectiveness and how that can perhaps fulfil some of the things that concern you that the Arts Council are not doing?

    Dr Jenkins: In my mind I think it’s unfortunate that Arts & Business has been cut, although I hope that it works hard to sustain itself; primarily because-I’m sure there were problems with it-it worked well as an advocacy organisation, a centralised advocacy organisation for philanthropy. My concern would be that if it goes, then each organisation across the country has to do that itself and train itself. That might mean duplication. So I’d be slightly concerned about that.

    Mr Lee: There is already duplication. Most galleries throughout the country already have their fundraisers and PR departments. In fact PR departments in most municipal galleries earn more than the curators, so important is it considered to be.

    Mr Watson: It’s the same in Government. Norman?

    Mr Lebrecht: Arts & Business has always been a thorn in the side of the Arts Council. It does its job very well and it needles the Arts Council and I’m afraid the cut has been vindictive. I very much hope that it can reconstitute itself independently, on a lower subsidy level, because it is very much needed. But the issue of whether private funding can replace the loss of state funding, or the diminution of state funding, is not something that’s clear cut and it’s not something to which anyone can give a categorical answer because it varies from one place to another.

    Again, the regions of the country are going to be worst hit because the money, private and corporate, will always gravitate to London. It’s unfortunate, but London is where we do business with the rest of the world. So our foreign clients come here and we want to entertain them in places of great esteem, so we are more likely to support Covent Garden and to support the Barbican and the London orchestras, and so forth, than we are to support the orchestra in Birmingham or in Liverpool or in Manchester.

    If I take the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, which is an outstandingly well-run and frugal organisation; it gets only 12% in corporate funding. It has the highest uptake of any orchestra in the country in what it gets at the box office. It has incredibly good commercial figures, but it’s not getting the private giving because the private giving isn’t going to Birmingham. So, as far as London is concerned, it is reasonable to say that private giving might make up some of the shortfall. That’s not going to happen around the country.

    Chair: I think we’ll move on. Damian?

    Q357 Damian Collins: I suppose the previous question has led nicely up to what I wanted to ask. There has been a lot of discussion in our hearings about the role of philanthropy, private giving, and what that means for the arts. Some people have suggested that too much private giving makes the arts too conservative; there’s less risk-taking because it’s linked to private money. I just wondered, looking at contemporary visual art in London, who do you think has been the greatest risk-taker: Nicholas Serota or Charles Saatchi?

    Mr Lebrecht: Well, it has to be Charles Saatchi because it’s his own money.

    Mr Lee: The answer is: Charles Saatchi.

    Mr Lebrecht: Mr Serota has nothing to lose but his job. Charles Saatchi has his reputation and his personal wealth on the line.

    Mr Lee: I think it’s worth pointing out here, that both have had a malign influence on what kind of art is taught in art schools and what kind of art is exhibited in the Arts Council galleries. If you go to the exhibition of Saatchi’s gallery, which opened last week, I think you’ll probably find some work there that is of no merit whatsoever. Yet we have a very craven press in this country now, which is enslaved to the people who make all the important decisions in the visual arts, and there isn’t anybody there who can stand up and say, “This work is, very largely, infantile and doesn’t deserve the prominence that is being given by this person’s influence in the art world”.

    Q358 Damian Collins: You mentioned Brian Sewell earlier. When the new Saatchi Gallery opened in King’s Road, Brian Sewell said that he regarded Charles Saatchi as an important prop to the hapless inactivity, narrowness and complacency of Tate Modern. Would you agree with those sentiments and say, regardless of your views on the art in Saatchi’s private collection that he displays publicly, that he’s given a stimulus to the visual arts that the Tate hasn’t?

    Mr Lee: Absolutely. He’s the most influential person in the visual arts in the last 25 years. Nobody comes anywhere near him.

    Dr Jenkins: But you wouldn’t want to just rely on business. Mixed funding is always ideal because it gives any organisation greater independence. I do think there is a slight anti-business feeling in the arts world. I think you saw it expressed over the BP sponsorship; a bad time to do that and slightly unfortunate to do that. So I would counter against that.

    Mr Lee: Of course it gives huge influence to the untutored taste of one individual who has, more or less, redirected what is produced in art colleges in order to supply the kind of thing that he likes. Art students now try and appeal to him so that they will enhance their career, which is a very, very malign influence.

    Mr Lebrecht: Which leads to a very interesting schism that is opening within the museum and galleries world, which is about whether contemporary arts should be funded at the same level as traditional arts. Given that contemporary arts are, on the whole, market driven, and very much market driven by Charles Saatchi, where should we put the diminishing part? Should we put it more into conservation? Should we put it more into traditional arts and into purchases of things that enhance the collections from the past, or into contemporary? I don’t know which directors of museums and galleries you are having before you but some of them are coming out on either side of that argument.

    Q359 Damian Collins: We had a session last week where the director from the theatre hall in Bath spoke, and he said there is a danger with the theatre that there is an obsession with growing the market for people to go and see plays. So, if anything, the public subsidy encourages putting on plays that people don’t want to come and see. They aren’t there for the current theatre audience. They’re there for the people that don’t go to the theatre. Do you think there’s a danger of that in the broader arts environment as well?

    Dr Jenkins: Absolutely, no question about it. I think the regular core audience has been ignored for the sake of chasing a kind of mythical audience; the young, trendy, hip, non-visitor, traditional-

    Mr Le e: There’s a tyranny of youth now, no question, and in the visual arts it’s particularly bad, I’m afraid.

    Q360 Damian Collins: My question is about Serota and Saatchi-probably, almost answering the question, we’re talking about Charles Saatchi more than Nicholas Serota-but the question was about the Tate, I think. If people have voiced a concern that over-reliance on private giving leads to the Tates or private individuals being more prevalent, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have safe and boring art as a result of that. Do you think the same is on the other side; if you have an over-reliance on public subsidy people still answer the call of the paymaster? They’ll deliver what whoever is providing the private subsidy wants; so you’ll get more art that the Arts Council wants if the Arts Council is paying for it.

    Mr Lebrecht: Well, we who are not elected have a right to take a critical position. We can fight on either side of that barrier. I don’t think you should. I think one should look at Nicholas Serota’s career in general and his achievements in general. I think he’s done brilliantly in expanding the Tate from a place on the riverbank where you never went to, because there was a big roundabout and how do you get there from the station and so forth, into a national franchise that everybody knows about and that’s a magnet, and so forth. What he does with the art inside is, with respect, not the business of funders. It’s the business of critics.

    Q361 Damian Collins: Well, you’re critics. That’s why you’re here.

    Mr Lee: In answer to your previous question, if you go around the country, the Arts Council-funded galleries in each of the major cities, the one thing that unifies them is the fact that they’re empty and that is because they show the kind of work that the Arts Council wants to shove relentlessly down our throats and not, as Tiffany suggested, something that might be a little more, dare I say, popular. I was talking about a good example to somebody from a radio station this morning: Jack Vettriano, a very popular artist. He’s not an artist whose work I admire in any way but he is a very popular artist with a huge audience; indeed the most expensive artist ever sold at auction in Scotland. There is only one public collection with a work by Jack Vettriano. It’s Kirkcaldy Art Gallery, his home art gallery.

    Now, why haven’t the Arts Council put on an exhibit of popular artists’ work and circulated it around the country? Why haven’t they put on an exhibition of Jack Vettriano’s work or Beryl Cook, another popular artist I happen not to have any interest in? But these are the ways in which you can increase the audiences for contemporary art because all those people are involved in contemporary art. If the Arts Council allocated maybe one of its four exhibit slots per year, in all these country galleries, to showing work that people might be interested in going to see, then they might do a good job and that’s what they should be doing because public funding should recognise everything, not just what half a dozen people think is good. That’s the situation we have at the moment, where the Tate Gallery and the Arts Council dictate virtually everything.

    Q362 Damian Collins: Just one final question, which is a question you may have heard I asked in the previous session but I’d be interested in your views too. What did you think of the criticism from some of the arts media about Lloyd Dorfman’s donation to the National Theatre, in response to him having the Cottesloe Theatre named after him? Some people question whether it’s legitimate for that type of private giving to give you that sort of prominence in the arts world but, as I said in the previous session, I don’t think Andrew Carnegie donating the Carnegie Hall has led to poor performances there.

    Dr Jenkins: My only concern with giving is when there is a demand for a certain type of work. I have no problem with names, plaques, bells, parties to thank and promote those individuals.

    Mr Lee: Galleries have to whore in the market and if it means naming a gallery after somebody, in order to get money to do it up or put on a certain series of exhibits, then they have to do it. There’s no answer to that.

    Mr Lebrecht: The only question is: how much?

    Dr Jenkins: Yes.

    Mr Lebrecht: Fifteen years ago the Southbank was going to rename itself the Paul Hamlyn Southbank. When I saw the amount involved I laughed it out of existence. It was only a small sum and Paul Hamlyn himself hadn’t even wanted it. They just thought they ought to. So if Lloyd Dorfman is giving the sum that it is reported that he’s giving, yes, and nobody remembers Cottesloe any more, yes, why not?

    Damian Collins: Thank you.

    Chair: I thank the three of you very much.

  2. Tommy Vance said

    So we’re all wondering why David Lee is considered by a Commons Select Committee to be an expert witness on the Arts. But I’m also wondering how the ridiculous Louise Bagshaw got on the committee. We all know she wrote crap books but what’s not on her Wiki page is that she was also once President of the Oxford University Rock Music Society (http://users.ox.ac.uk/~rocksoc/) and famously slept her way into that position (with some particularly unattractive men).

  3. lalala said

    David Lee is such a fucking idiot. He has no idea. How do people at art schools pander to and try to impress saatchi? Maybe a select few totally, totally stupid people. And his picasso analogy was totally hilarious and retrograde. When has culture, especially art, ever existed to satisfy populist public taste? why would it? Why does it need to? People like mr lee seem to want to go back to some imagied, harmonious, prelapsarian age where watercolour paintings of bridges stand side by side with ‘conceptual art’ (again an extremely retrograde, naive and insecure term to use) and everything is produced in order to please a vaguely defined, amorphous ‘art loving’ public. No, you are a fucking fool.

  4. dopethrone said

    I liked david lee’s example of Jack Vettriano and Beryl Cook as popular artists who should be shown more and who the public would be interested in. Does he find all his art at the garden centre gift shop? I didn’t know who either of them were so did a google image search. Unsurprisingly, they’re both fucking horrible abortions of artists.

  5. David Lee? They’re joking, right? How I miss jolly old England.

  6. CAP said

    Well I was reluctant to wade through all that transcript – but in the end stuck with it, just to try and gauge the people who get to have a say and the people that invite and listen to them. Actually they don’t sound too bad, but then, that’s also part of the problem. They talk the talk. My reaction was pretty much the same as Lalala’s. Lee wants some kind of tokenised or proportional representation across the visual arts from Beryl Cook to Hirst or Emin, only on this rationale the genres or styles for the visual arts just keep sub-dividing! There are endless sub-categories of Conceptual Art, just as there are with Abstraction or Figuration, with landscape, still life or portrait. Who gets to choose the categories? Which critics or authorities are sacred or right? Do we revert to an 18th century heirarchy of genres? Clearly we can’t.

    I agree the appeal to a social cohesion or some kind of measurable sociological outcome is folly – and chasing a naive populism only encounters just the kind of demographic divisions that divide BBC TV and radio stations. Popularity would seem to be pluralistic. But art that insists it is for everyone or most people, is bad art for cardboard cutouts. On the other hand, how then to erect criteria for ‘aesthetic merits’? Critics are rarely unanimous in their opinions, and generally suspect when they are. I can’t see how a state funding body can safely enter these vigorous and persistent contests, pretending to take an even hand.

    I don’t have a solution. Although I do agree that the entrenched cronyism and nepotism that inevitably grows up around a guaranteed income needs to be regularly stripped away. Perhaps the best remedy is regular rotation of the administration, to at least spread the favours a little more.

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