mon 17/06/2024

Call You And Yours: Are arts nice-to-have or must-have? | reviews, news & interviews

Call You And Yours: Are arts nice-to-have or must-have?

Call You And Yours: Are arts nice-to-have or must-have?

Culture Minister joins live radio debate to find out public stance on arts spending

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey joined BBC Radio 4 Call You and Yours to debate public arts funding, joining a panel and answering phonecalls and emails from the public. The government will be incorporating some of the public comments into its current decisions on arts funding. This is a simultaneously typed rough transcript of the programme.

Radio4_JulianWorrickerJulian Worricker, presenter (picture right): To what extent should arts be funded by the taxpayer? Do Government cutbacks fill you with worry or do you believe in public funding that will step in? On On the other side, it's argued that arts flourished in the past due to private patronage - and it's unfair on the poor to make them pay through taxes for something affects the rich most. On the panel Samuel West, actor, giving the pro-subsidy case, and Mark Littlewood, director-general of the Institute for Economic Affairs, putting the opposite argument. Paul Curren in the studio fields emails and phone calls from the public. Phone-in guests include Sadler's Wells director Alastair Spalding, venture capitalist Jon Moulton and Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, who joined the programme half-way in.

Phone: Jill in Tintagel (actress) The taxpayer does not pay for the arts - it’s a misconception. The government invests in the arts and receives substantial returns. The DCMS figures estimates 3.7billion pounds comes to the UK from arts. Theatre cost 121.3million and generated 2.6billion pounds. The trouble is that private supporters usually want publicity for their work. Experiments and first-time work doesn't attract them, it doesn't get that kind of splash.

Phil in London: War Horse at the National Theatre was developed in a studio there. A show of that level of creativity could not happen in the commercial sector because the risk is too great.

JW: Why do you believe commercial field never takes such risks?

Phil: Take Enron for example. Commercial investment looks at immediate probabilities for commercial return. War Horse will not only make back all its money but Steven Spielberg wants to make a movie now. That wasn't ever foreseen at first.

Paul Curran (studio): Let's explain - the government doesn't give direct funding. It's the four arts councils, whose budgets made up of £61million in Scotland, £31million in Wales. £17million in Northern Ireland, £445million in England this year though now cuts are being implemented to that. It has to make 25-30 percent cuts over next few years, but government says there will be more arts funding before long. Some money has been diverted to the Olympic budget.

Mark Littlewood: If people can’t produce theatre or TV that people want to watch, they shouldn’t be paid to do it

PANEL: Samuel West, actor, and Mark Littlewood, director-general of Institute of Economic Affairs:

Mark (picture left): We heard from the actress that arts work a lot for the economy, but then so do football and industry. That’s not a reason to subsidise this activity. If it is the case that seed money leads to War Horse-type success the private sector will take this kind of risk. You may well get investors who invest on the basis that nine hit the buffers but one is a huge hit. They're used to that.

The other argument put forward that these are popular activities which should therefore be subsidised - well, if people can’t produce theatre or TV that people want to watch, they shouldn’t be paid to do it. We’ve allowed the arts to become a state-run industry. Since the 16th century arts thrived independently. Mozart and Shakespeare didn’t need subsidy.

Samuel: I love the idea that private patrons are only held back by public subsidy and that it's about subsidising people's living.  Wayne Rooney gets £180,000 a week. The most I’ve earned is £700 a week when I did Hamlet - thanks, that’s a good living wage. But Joanna Lumley in the Cherry Orchard got £395 a week. The idea that this subsidised outlay is making us all a rich living is bobbins.

Samuel West: Enron started in a tiny theatre. If I’d rung up a private investor about that original production I don’t think they’d have returned my call

Taking the investment point, Enron is still running in the West End making hundreds of thousands of pounds now. But it started in a tiny theatre. If I’d rung up a private investor about that original production I don’t think they’d have returned my call.

Mark: I think the idea that we’re making investment decisions based on quangocrats is offensive. You don’t need to be an expert in technology to invest in a good idea. I think it’s much more appropriate to let the free market flourish. This isn’t a case of billionaire backers. This is the public who buy a lottery ticket.  Subsidy is basically transferring from the relatively poor to the relatively rich, from the country to London.

Samuel: Nonsense. From the dawn of time art has been created by human beings. Nonsense to say art is elitist, and subsidies too. Touring companies take theatre and music to small places that have no other access, that’s what is most at risk.

Phonecall: Leo (London): I'm a self-employed artist who's failed to get funding for my traditional-style art. Problem about funding visual arts is that 90 percent of the time it's something wacky or strange or alienating. Traditional arts funded in theatre but not in visual arts where they're more into political statements.

JW: Why should the public fund your art?

Leo: Because art is part of our identity and life.

Mark: This isn't a good enough argument. Our own institute doesn't get public funding and it's contributing to our lives too. I'm not a philistine. I think we individually need to decide where we put our money.

Samuel: Many people keep saying look back to Medici time for private patronage at its height - consider how awful much of that time was, how it was only art for the rich. The difference now is that we have a different world now, where there is a welfare state that supports all of us, allows us to go to national galleries and look at pictures for free. In America you can't see a picture without paying at least $20 for it.

Mark: Of course the world's richer, yes. But I don't understand what is so spectacularly different in the past 40 years that we suddenly need an arts council. Going back centuries we see how art flourished in a free market environment.

JW: Emails: "John says art should be financed through ticket sales like sport is."

Jon Moulton: The cutting edge is not what we need to have. If the market can't fund it it's telling you it's not interesting and not doing anything very exciting

Phone: Jon Moulton (venture capitalist, on the Sunday Times Rich List):  We can't afford everything and the government must make cuts. The arts are in the nice-to-have area, not the must-have. Beside hospitals or children's cancer treatment, they need to be cut back.

Phone: Alastair Spalding (director Sadler's Wells Theatre): We're a wealthy society and we should be able to afford to invest in arts, just as we do in health service. 89 percent of our theatre's income is through box office and other income. Without our 2million pound grant we couldn't do the cutting edge work that doesn't attract sponsors. We're in a lucky position to have a range of work. But the more cutting edge work in the smaller companies is at risk. They can't attract giving. A bit will feed into mainstream, but most of it is at risk.

Jon M: Fundamentally the cutting edge is not what we need to have. If the market can't fund it it's telling you it's not interesting and not doing anything very exciting. We need to take out something like 20 percent of public expenditure, and I'm afraid cutting edge dance is going to be a victim and should be a victim.

Samuel: We make very little successfully in Britain now. The arts is one thing we do spectacularly well. £95billion a year is lost in tax avoidance - only 1 percent of that could subsidise all arts. Jon, you gave money to the New Victoria? [The theatre in Basford, Staffordshire for The Knotty, a railway musical]

Jon: Yes. A quarter of a million pounds. I did it as a present for my wife.

JW: What would make the environment more encouraging for people like you, Jon? What is blocking it?

Jon: If I'm giving money to a theatre, my first concern is that I'm displacing money given by the public sector. If the government didn't provide subsidy, I'd be more inclined to give.

Alastair: We have a 30-30-30 public-box office-private situation in Britain. it's a very healthy balance, and it makes us work on all fronts. If Jez Butterworth hadn't had that subsidy mechanism, Jerusalem couldn't have happened.

JW: Mark, answer the point in what comes back via arts in VAT etc.

Mark: It doesn't stack up. I don't get any handouts for the work I do. Why should the arts?

JW: Arts do bring in money.

Mark: But this is not uniquely true of arts. A round of applause to them. But that's a reason not to subsidise them.

JW: Now joined by Ed Vaizey, Minister in the DCMS.

Ed Vaizey: People talk as if the arts are sitting there with a begging bowl. They've worked incredibly hard to broaden their base. This is not a model we want to break

Ed Vaizey, Minister in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (pictured right): I support government subsidy for the arts, or investment if you like. What Alastair Spalding was saying is exactly right. People talk as if the arts are sitting there with a begging bowl. They've worked incredibly hard to broaden their base. This is not a model we want to break.

JW: What proportion of cuts should they expect?

Ed: We've put in our submission to the Treasury on the numbers everyone knows about. I would say, we're trying to be sophisticated about it. When we get our settlement from the Treasury, we will look to protect the front-line services - a clunky phrase in terms of the arts.

JW: Free museum admission safe under this government?

Ed: It's safe.

JW: And the Arts Council safe under this government?

Ed: It's safe.

JW: How about the private funding priority?

Ed: We believe there should be more philanthropy for the arts, but we're not asking them to take the place of the government. Jeremy Hunt should be applauded for saying this is a 20-year strategy, not a quick fix. Arts funding can't work like that. We'd want to put in place measure to encourage more, however.

JW: Tax incentives?

Ed: Yes, absolutely. Need to think about how. Gift aid is a generous way of giving to charity, but I think it's quite complicated. It makes it hard for arts organisations to get it. I'd like to see something simpler.

Mark: I think it's positively unhealthy that we are ring-fencing a part of civil society that has nothing to do with the government and nothing to do with other cherished areas of British business.

Ed: I don't think Mark is being fair to the arts by claiming that the car industry gets away without subsidies. Scrappage scheme? That idea is ludicrous - the government intervenes all the time in the industrial and manufacturing sector. Sam West got it spot-on - government may not want to be put in the position of picking winners, but the arts does have a way of making winners.

Samuel: The economy is not broke. A government is defined by what it chooses to spend its money on. If you cut us by 30 percent you risk hundreds of regularly funded organisations out of business. What do you show them at the Cultural Olympiad in 2012? The West End is only the top of a thriving pyramid based on the subsidised activities.

David: The problem is that the way arts work in society is more to do with the way society thinks, the way the society looks at itself

Phone: David (university lecturer in film): I want to ask about the cut in the UK Film Council. In this debate we're rationalising the arts in terms of car manufacturers. The problem is that the way arts work in society is more to do with the way society thinks, the way the society looks at itself. A lot of art movements are remembered - cutting edge ones like Theatre of the Absurd - that could never have occurred without subsidy somewhere.

Ed: Taking the Film Council point. A lot of people are pleased actually that we're cutting it. I'm not saying that we do ring-fence the arts. It's not about the proportion of GDP spent on public spending, but about the country's massive debt. I didn't think the UK Film Council was a sacred cow that needed saving. We are preserving the Lottery funding for film and the subsidy. The BFI will take up the education and audience engagement side that the UKFC was doing. There are 75 staff on UKFC managing a relatively small amount of money.

Samuel: We were very angry about this as actors. There may have been wastage there, but there was no consultation. They did important work - films they funded: Gosford Park, In the Loop, Bend It Like Beckham.

Ed: That money will still be there.

Samuel: But the UKFC was full of people who spotted these kinds of opportunities and could make them work.

Paul Curran in studio: Most people commenting by email are in favour of arts funding. "Mozart and Shakespeare weren't competing with the internet", says one.

Phone: Roger (Southampton): My partner and I used to run a theatrical supply business. We wigged Mr West's father. Used to supply regional rep theatres. The amount of waste that took place was breathtaking. There was an extremely well-known West Country rep theatre, and a couple of well-known media people got hands on as joint artistic directors, and within a couple of years it was wrecked. The approach went far away from Dr Johnson's law that we must please to live. There was a sort of benefit culture.

JW: You mean, because they knew they could rely on a subsidy.

Roger: They wasted money because they could.

Samuel: Even if there is wastage, that's no reason to throw out the model. Sometimes when things are bad, seeing a thing of beauty makes life better. To be reminded that your own personal experience is not the only one can make life worthwhile. The real profit is in the way we feel about ourselves. Arts make life less boring. Incidentally private funding increases the bias to the metropolitans and the richer classes.

Mark: The bias of public subsidy is in fact totally towards London. There have been catastrophic issues of waste, eg 15million pounds on the national pop music museum in Sheffield. If Sam is saying he wants the Arts Council to be seen as the Arts Venture Capital Council, then let them measure their investment success and be clear it's not a hand-out, but about investment. I think you'll find the wastage in this sector is appalling.

JW: More emails: "Cutting edge art is defined by existing beyond official methods, and always finds a way in defiance of public acceptability symbolised by subsidy" - "Classical music would be reduced without subsidy to popularist concerts with crossover artists."

Phone: Andy (director of a Welsh theatre): There are not the philanthropists in a rural area who plug the funding gap. We sell about 40,000 tickets a year. We get 30 percent of our income from the Welsh arts council. The economic benefit to Brecon from people coming to the theatre is well over 1 million pounds, to local petrol stations, local restaurants. The value of the theatre though is not just economic. it's about the quality of life, it's bringing multicultural ideas here where it is a very white area, it's giving young people something to aim towards.

Mark: The point is you must look in the round. I've never been to Brecon. But through the subsidy system money is actually leaving Brecon and subsidising London. That's the impact of the arts funding mechanism. On aggregate this is a transfer of cash from rural areas to metropolitan areas.

Ed: I think there is a big problem with regional arts and in terms of the regional philanthropy. London obviously gets the lion's share because it is the home of the major organisations and people come from all over the world there. That's why it's skewed. I recognise it's a problem.

Email from US woman (who got out of bed to join the debate): Sam said it costs 20 dollars to see anything here - that is absolutely the bottom minimum. Things are even worse than that. The idea that private patronage is stepping in here and improving access is not so.

Helen: I have a bathtap that doesn't work. I prefer not to pay a plumber to fix it so I can have money to go to the theatre locally

Phone (man): Face it, this is all about people wanting others to subsidise their cheaper ticket prices.

Samuel: By all means it should be used to narrow the gap so that people can be encouraged to step from seeing How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria to downloading Maria Callas.

Phone: Helen (Wolverhampton): I've been on benefits for years and have to make terrible choices. I have a bathtap that doesn't work. I prefer not to pay a plumber to fix it so I can have money to go to the theatre locally. It enriches my life more.

Mark: I think it's great people make that kind of decision. But it's a matter for them individually. You don't have to be a philistine to be sceptical about the Arts Council. It has been wasteful and it's presided over a transfer from poor people to rich people, from regions to London, and from the less educated to the more educated.

JW: Thanks to all. Some of your comments, as I said, will be finding their way into the government inquiry into arts funding.

Mozart and Shakespeare didn't need subsidy' - 'Mozart and Shakespeare weren't competing with the internet

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"Face it, this is all about people wanting others to subsidise their cheaper ticket prices." Of course it is, in the same way that I subsidise my father's free travel pass despite the fact he earns at least 10 times the figure I do. What goes around, comes around and the fact is, in order to make theatre affordable (and therefore popular) subsidies are necessary. The painful truth that none of the suits are willing to face is that the ACTUAL money spent, wasted or not - and there is a good deal of fat to be trimmed - is pitiful compared to the 'aggregate' of other government spend. That £250,000 that Jon Moulton so whimsically spent on a 'present' could fund a 5 midscale tours, reaching thousands of people. All that he & Mark proved was just how out of touch they are with what is actually happening on our side of the fence. And don't even get me started on the "this money would equal x amount of baby incubators" argument. I'm sure the same could be said about the banks, the MEP gravy train blah blah blah.....

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