Thursday, 29 July 2010

Art For Art’s Polly’s Sake!

Polly Toynbee is the latest columnist to cling, wailing ‘No, not the arts, pleeeeease!’, to the government’s legs as they go about the business of being grown-up about the budget deficit:
In less than a year shrouds will be waving, bloody stumps displayed with empty begging bowls as the coalition lays into public services.

It will be hard to tell who is most seriously injured as attention focuses on rising hospital waiting lists, or falling hopes for a blighted, workless generation.
Oh, noes! Woe is us! The Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse is upon us!
So how does the cause of the arts make itself heard in that maelstrom?
It doesn’t. Next!
Protesting thespians may get short shrift.
Yes. And that’s as it should be.

The government should not be bankrolling the arts with public money, end of.
So who will defend the arts?
Well, ‘Guardian’ columnists seem to be doing the job, Polly!
The arts generate growth: for a minuscule budget of £1bn, Britain gains its international reputation as a great cultural centre, drawing people to music, theatre, galleries and museums.
And none of that would happen without government moolah, would it, Polly? Somehow, I fail to be convinced…
As every party promises to rebalance Britain's economy away from finance, the creative industries are a fast-growing sector. Between 1997 and 2007, they created two million new jobs and £16.6bn in exports. Culture drives tourism, worth £86bn in 2007. Heritage sites, equally fearful of cuts, employ another 270,000 and draw in more tourists. Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture brought 15 million visitors, making £800m for the local economy.
Has anyone ever done any actual measurement of the extent to which the existence of tourism boards help tourism? Would people not visit these shores if they didn’t exist?
The return from a tiny government investment is probably greater in the cultural industries than any other – every £1 the Arts Council England puts in generates another £2 from commercial sources.
But it’s not clear that without that £1, the £2 would diminish or stop. That just seems to be assumed.
Arts leaders warn that threatened cuts – 25% or more – mean one in four of the 200 Arts Council-funded bodies will close, theatres will go dark, museums will shut for part of the week, with few blockbuster exhibitions or new commissions.
Hey, if those institutions aren’t commercially viable, why should they be propped up with taxpayer’s money?
The New Art Gallery in Walsall, a mini-Bilbao, breathes life into the town
Really? How? Give examples.

Don’t just state it as a fact.
What is the "big society" if not arts for everyone?
Well, no-one quite knows what the ‘Big Society’ is, Polly, including the coalition MPs currently name-dropping it into every soundbite.

But we know what it isn’t. It isn’t government-sponsored art that no-one else will pay for. The Croydonian points out where that leads! *shudder*

Tim Worstall has more on the statistical side of dear Polly's effort. And Tim Almond, in the comments, points out her, err, creative use of the term 'creative exports'.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I went to Cornwall in 2004 - only because of the tourist board - the scenery etc were not factors :)

Mark Wadsworth said...

That's fantastic. She's doing her usual shroud waving (TM Simon Jenkins) and actually uses the phrase "shrouds will be waving".

Anonymous said...

I don't go anywhere now - it's better to live in the dream world of tourist board leaflets. I note Blackpool Pleasure Beach gets loans via the Council - surely banks should be doing this thrusting business?
I doubt much goes on in this world without subsidy, but we never get it to the right place. Perhaps stuffing the Millennium Dome of Doom with cash will come next?
ACO bxed

Anonymous said...

I do believe that the arts need some subsidy because they do enrich our lives and there are some things in life - like forest and parks etc which do fall into this category. i.e. they can't make money..

But there is plenty of room for cuts! First to all these ridiculous outreach programs that all the small subsidised as well as large theatres are forced into. I am not talking about school groups going to outings - that's great. But the community based stuff is labour intensive, costly and takes energy from the theatre which needs to put that to the main point - plays!

Example of lunacy - I was asked to sit on a panel (small honorarium paid) with other professionals for 4 hours in order to make sure that NEETS (Not in employment or education) had an introduction to acting as a possible field of endeavour. I declined. That is insane. Actors have a 90% unemployment rate. The panel was only one part of a three? seven? day program about getting NEETS into acting. Other suggested areas: brain surgery, Everest mountain guide and NBA basketball.

English Viking said...

I have a very simple rule about art; it is no such thing if I can do it.

A load of paint thrown on a canvas, an unmade bed surrounded by dirty clothes and discarded condoms, people running around a gallery in relay, a room in which the lights turn themselves on an off every 5 seconds, etc, etc, is NOT ART, IT'S EXPENSIVE; TAXPAYER SUBSIDISED GARBAGE.

If an artist produces work good enough to withstand the ultimate test of the market, they will flourish, those that don't, won't. And good riddance too.

Anonymous said...

EV - I agree with much of what you say but art sometimes takes a while to be recognised..i.e. much longer than the lifetime of the artist. I have a friend who is a painter and has made his living off of it - but it is a very very tight living - he is tops and has very faithful collectors but his style is out of favour with the chi-chi critics who control the field (and the prices)...

John said...

You do realise that by posting columns about 'potty' Polly you flag yourself up as someone who is still reading her shill, hypocritical dross.

We got rid of Labour. There's no value in listening to Toynbee any more and getting angry. In fact you could argue that The Guardian as a publication now has little purpose itself.

Fausty said...

Polly fails to mention that Labour reduced the funding of the Arts by raiding the National Lottery to pay for its pet projects.

The National Lottery's original remit was to fund the arts - and that remit is now being restored, thankfully.

A week or so ago, the BBC (surprise!) did a piece on why the Arts should be publicly funded. Equally unsurprisingly, funding recipients bleated on about how art would die, if not funded.

If we fund the Arts, do we get a say in what type of art is funded? Hell no. The Labour government funded art was unpopular - because nobody was interested in it.

Bloody ludicrous.

Anonymous said...

"The Labour government funded art was unpopular - because nobody was interested in it."

If people were interested in it, it wouldn't need taxpayer funding.

I saw this absurdity myself a few years ago when friends were trying to get government funding for their movie, and were essentially told that they couldn't get any money because the government would only fund movies which weren't commercially viable and theirs was. In other words, the government would only fund movies that people didn't want to see, typically made by people who had mates on the funding committee.

Burn arts funding to the ground and let the market pay for things that people actually want. Poor people should not have their money stolen to pay for luvvies to make 'art' that only a handful of people want to see.

JuliaM said...

"...only because of the tourist board - the scenery etc were not factors "

Or the cream teas, or the wonderful beaches, or the fresh fish... ;)

"That's fantastic. She's doing her usual shroud waving (TM Simon Jenkins) and actually uses the phrase "shrouds will be waving"."

Totally oblivious, is our Pol...

"I doubt much goes on in this world without subsidy, but we never get it to the right place."

Ironically, the places that deserve subsidy usually don't need it!

"I do believe that the arts need some subsidy because they do enrich our lives and there are some things in life - like forest and parks etc which do fall into this category. i.e. they can't make money.."

I think they can, if properly managed. But yes, far too much gets spent on bonkers projects like you describe.

"I have a very simple rule about art; it is no such thing if I can do it."

I know just what you mean!

"...art sometimes takes a while to be recognised..i.e. much longer than the lifetime of the artist."

That's always struck me as a curious artifact of human civilisation. Who decides? Who suddenly says 'Oh, that Van Gogh character. He's really good, you know'..?

"You do realise that by posting columns about 'potty' Polly you flag yourself up as someone who is still reading her shill, hypocritical dross."

Well, people like her haven't gone away. We shouldn't forget how they think...

"Polly fails to mention that Labour reduced the funding of the Arts by raiding the National Lottery to pay for its pet projects."

Indeed. And with regards to the Lotto, look how they shut out Branson's bid which would have INCREASED the amount to go to charities. Madness!

"...the government would only fund movies which weren't commercially viable and theirs was. In other words, the government would only fund movies that people didn't want to see..."

Yup. The movies that THe Croydonian highlighted are a good example. Who in their right mind would pay to see them?