Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
The shock news broke last week across all media: Arts funding was discovered to be heavily biased towards London. Well, quel domage! Apparently people in London are receiving £70 per head, whilst the remainder of us, benighted peasantry that we are, receive only £4.60 per person. That made me really indignant. £4.60? Where's mine, then? On BBC Radio 4, they wheeled out a hapless Arts Council supremo to answer his charges. London was described rather optimistically I felt as the 'jewel in the crown' of the arts. The feeble defence mustered was that all of the finest exhibitions, shows and events were to be experienced in the great metropolis. It was pointed out to our Arts Council man by his interrogator, that if someone living, say, in Plymouth, wished to visit London, if only to enjoy the free museums and galleries, he'd still have to pay £150 in train fares and probably, that sum again in accommodation. Further, if the potential visitor then wanted to bring his family for a weekend of culture, he wouldn't see much change from £1,000.
The news didn't surprise me all. As a swede-crunching provincial, I have watched talent draining out of this region for years, the superstition being that only London had the money, the venues and the media to build careers in the arts.
London, it must be said, has long behaved as if it were a separate state. It chirrups,Look! and expects everybody's head to turn. Meawhile, as the capital secures most of the funding, salient local talent continues decamping there, impoverishing our region still further. We in the provinces receive London's hand-me-downs the touring versions of various shows etc and are expected to think ourselves lucky.
As for the Arts Council, the words on the tin sum it up: 'Arts' and 'Council'. Pantisocracy or pants bureaucracy? You decide. What, therefore, are the Arts Council really like? Ever seen a cat with its head wedged in a food can, banging and thrashing around a kitchen? Like that, only nowhere near as entertaining. It's not that the Arts Council don't want to dole out the money, it's just that, like all desk jockeys desperate to justify their jobs, they need to create a vaguely credible-looking system by which they will do it. This comes in the form of the Funding Labyrinth.
Got a great idea? Good. They can give you the money. But first you have to fill in a sheaf of their forms and wade your way through horse-conker hell. Unless, therefore, you the hopeful artist are adept at reading reams of gobbledegook and let me assure you that it makes Dickens' Office of Circumlocution look like a kindergarten then most of you fluffy-headed creators will fall at the first fence. The complexity of the application process has spawned a new creature, the arts facilitator. This is someone who knows the labyrinth well and can assist the applicant through it for an appropriate skim, naturally. The chief reason that London hogs the main share of the moolah, therefore, is simply that they have more panhandlers I'm sorry that should have read 'facilitators' fluent in the sort of blarney likely to get the anxious artist over the hurdles.
This is not the end of the paperwork, however. Upon the arts project's completion, the funding body may well ask its creator to produce an even more spurious sheaf of old waffle called an 'evaluation.' This describes what the project did and how it contributed to the wider good of the 'end user'. Naturally, it and the language it employs will also be pants.
If there were not all this paperwork, however, the people who work in the Arts Council offices might not have jobs. They too, we often discover, were themselves once arts hopefuls, but lacking the basic talent or tenacity of the real thing and not fancying the rates of pay, crossed the floor. I'm sure you have the picture by now. Need I continue? Oh I must. I must.
Who pays for the arts? Mostly, ordinary civilians do. Unwitting cherry-lipped innocents such as I once was people who sit in pub gardens and think that Giacometti is a type of ice cream. We pay a stupidity tax. It's called the Lottery. Central government takes a chunk of it you don't think they'd buzz their own money on the arts do you? and they give it to the Arts Council. The Arts Council in turn allocates most of the money to London and a smaller amount to outposts such as Essex.
Interestingly, last week Lord Heseltine said that regions such as Essex and Suffolk should not be 'cosying up to London' and should be fighting its dominance. He even used the phrase, 'peasant's revolt'. I'd go further. Let London have all the arts money. They can keep all the waffle, pretension and elitism too. As a freelance arts navvy, I don't want their clammy little fingers over my work. I neither seek their money nor their approval. I want to serve the public not some insipid quango. The Arts Council's adminstrators should be sacked and the money given to the food banks. Let London come here to be judged by us and why not send the Royal Opera out on a tour of rural barns? True artists will always survive. We're ruthless as river rats. The Arts Council should be afraid of us. The c***s (please insert password)