The playwright Mark Ravenhill, who burst onto the theatre scene in the mid-90s with his provocative play Shopping and Fucking, stirred more controversy recently.
He wrote a piece for the Guardian newspaper that began: “Substantial cuts in the money the arts receive from government are now inevitable. And why not? The arts are a vital part of our national life and need to share the nation’s current pain.”
Ravenhill then drew up his recommendations of where the cuts should fall—arts companies’ development, funding and outreach departments.
Boris Johnson’s London culture supremo Munira Mirza was next, advising the government to “cut with care”. As if.
Then came Mike Bradwell, founder of Hull Truck theatre company which aims to bring quality and relevant theatre to working class audiences and would consider himself of the left.
Top of his shopping list to slash was “the surplus layers of overpaid and unnecessary executives, administrators and consultants” and “diversity monitors”.
The fundamental problem with these shopping lists is that the Tory-Liberal government doesn’t give a damn.
When the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt abolished the UK Film Council overnight, most industry figures condemned the move. Yet some argued that the council was elitist with overpaid executives, and so deserved to be cut.
But the attack on the arts is exactly the same as the attack on public services generally. The rhetoric may be about “cutting waste” and “stripping out bureaucracy”, but it is at heart about making ordinary people pay for the crisis.
The organisations that the Department of Culture, Media and Sport funds, including the Arts Councils, have been asked to plan for a 25 percent cut.
Rumours are that Jeremy Hunt—personal fortune £4.5 million—has offered up a 40 percent cut over the next four years, to get into David Cameron’s good books.
I hope all those arts industry figures who shared civilised chat and cocktails with Hunt and his sidekick Ed Vaisey over the past couple of years are now choking on their olives.
The smaller, less well-funded, more experimental, community-based arts organisations will go to the wall first.
And if the Arts Council England subsidy is cut, cash-strapped local authorities will have an excuse to pull funding too.
The big companies like the Royal Opera House and the National Theatre will survive. The result will be a less dynamic, less diverse, less challenging arts world, dominated by establishment arts companies.
The current plea of the Arts Council—“You can cut us, but don’t kill us”—is nonsensical.The arts are an important part of our lives. Every child should have free access to arts experiences.
It is a shame that Mark Ravenhill and others are falling for the government’s divide-and-rule tactics. Ravenhill’s career was made possible by government subsidy.
Does he really think the next radical playwrights, especially those from working class backgrounds, will have the same opportunities as he enjoyed if the cuts go through unopposed?
Government propaganda that the funding gap can be plugged by philanthropy—private funding—is laughable. Firstly, it won’t happen: the private sector is not going to start throwing money at the arts, especially that which challenges the status quo.
But secondly, who wants a bank or a supermarket interfering in the content of an arts company’s work?
The debate that is going on in the arts is not a “special” one because it’s about “the luvvies”—it reflects a wider battle going on in society.
Artists who oppose the cuts need to get together, get organised and build links with more powerful forces on the move against the government attacks. Then we could see more radical cultural forces emerge.
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