THE BILLY JENKINS DEBATING CHAMBER

When Ed started the Billy Webzine, visitors were invited to respond to some of the musician's polemics.


 
Survival of the Faeces

(a brief overview of current arts funding issues on our island in 2001)
by
Richard Russell

We have a department of Culture, Media and Sport: a government department, full with secretaries, computers, personnel officers, pensions administrators, middle managers, 'senior' middle managers, 'middle' senior managers and all sorts. Now, it must be said that all these erstwhile, diligent, well-meaning people produce very little besides pointless beaurocracy and dictats designed for self-consumption. This does not surprise us, since we are used to the Treasury, which hides the treasure, the Ministry of Defence, which attacks all kinds of people, and the Home Office, which refuses to house anyone without a Swiss bank account.

My point here is not some hyper-libertarian roll back the state abolish the department one: mine is a save the arts sod the power structure abolish the department one. Indeed, anyone involved in the arts administration industry should pack up now, unless they've got a half- finished novel in their desk or a talent for tap-dancing.

We find ourselves confronted with a stereotype: the anguished Artist, scornful of authority, unable to function except in an oblique relationship with society, indulging in a quiet revolution in her/his chosen field. This person needs funding, and since we are a civilised democracy, the state purports to oblige, through trusts, the arts council, the lottery etc. The Artist merely fills in some forms, pursues the pursuant channels, and before you know it, the state has bought them some recording time or a dirty great lump of marble or whatever. On this basis, we tolerate the arts administration industry, much as we tolerate a charity's plush head office, or Thora Hurd's salary.

The reality, I'm grieved to report, is distinctly more sinister. Let me introduce you the the murky world of arts funding:-

 Give us your huddled mass circulation figures:

The arts, all the arts, used to rely on the patronage of the privileged few: Michaelangelo buttered up the super-rich of the Vatican; Wagner shagged a prince. With the advent of mass-appeal culture, artists made money from mass sales: so Dickens wrote bestseller soaps, while Rossetti cornered the chocolate box franchise; private patronage declined. More latterly, the multinational money-factories weighed in, giving us Hollywood, aol.Time-Warner, Random House, Sony and not very many many more...Patronage in the old sense ceased altogether, leaving a sizeable proportion of the arts (including many of the 'high' arts like classical music and sculpture) scratching around in an ever-decreasing market: without million dollar advertising publicity, there was no demand; and without demand there was no money for publicity. So, from the nineteen fifties onwards, the state has intervened with it's own system of patronage: hence the Festival Hall, the RSC, the V&A, Covent Garden and, well, not very many many more....We are told that the Lottery, with it's intrinsic principles of base greed and game-show chic, now generates even more cash to fund everything from symphony orchestras to computer animators, thus maintaining an healthy and culturally wealthy little island. Cheers.

Unfortunately, we have nothing of the sort. What we have is an arts administration industry, living on the money meant for the arts themselves, and growing ever more deadly; to the point where the system is now actively killing the arts, while suffocating any artistic temprament remaining in our lean, hungry societal firmament.


 
 

Dictat and the brain-washing business:

Problem one is the point of value: your average arts minister gets up in the morning, goes to work in a building full of Gainsborough and Henry Moore, and yet continues to argue that art isn't really worth anything at all. Opera is paid for as some sort of favour to the bourgeoisie; modern visual art is some sort of curious oddity, worthy of temporary installation in some curious east end warehouse, er, maybe. Ballet is synchronised swimming without the water: what's the point of that? And as for music: well, there's a music industry isn't there? Go and make your own money.

This brings us to problem two: the ethic. If art has any value at all, it is about producing profit: generating wealth. Thus Andrew bleedin' lord Webber creates employment for all those poor stagehands, while; The Full Monty intrinsically and extrinsically demonstrates the relationship between the modern creative artist and the modern paying punters who, after all, knows what they likes and pays for what they knows. Cheers.

The wealth ethic permeates every level of arts funding: a budding artist must also be a budding businessman: "me plc". Unless you can already afford yourself, promote yourself, keep accounts on yourself, and draw up business plans for yourself, you won't get a penny. The very first rung of the arts funding ladder is to turn yourself into a capitalist beaurocracy. Fill in these forms, mate. Show us your profits forecast. Agree to these terms and conditions: no nudity; no promoting drugs; nothing political, er, ever. The worst of it is the younger artists get the message and we all lose out: they grow up with the understanding that you must be a capitalist beaurocrat first and an artist incidentally. So she doesn't paint her beautiful minatures; instead she makes fashion jewellery. He gives up painting portraits and learns lighting and make-up; becomes a hairdresser. Film-makers make tv ads and are grateful for the chance. Poets sell condolence cards. Playwrights sell pornographic films. Actors sell lager. Cheers.


 

Classic case history: Mr D

This of course leaves the jolly old arts administration industry to play with itself. What does it do? It sets up a centralised structure radiating from london: a black widow's web of local representatives and petit-bourgeois committees, intent on sucking any remaining life from those remaining, hard-working, erstwhile, well-meaning, and only slightly anti-establishment figures left outside the clutches of Murdoch, Branson, and the beeb.

The local arts administrators job cuts two ways: first, he dangles titbits, the odd grand here, the odd grand there, provided you sell your soul to new labour on the application form; second, he justifies not spending a penny on anything worthwhile on the grounds of the scarcity of funds and so on. He gets paid thirty grand, every year, for doing this.

Mr D is a classic case in point: he is a local one, apparently, though my painstaking researches have failed to ascertain where he lives, his job title, or even a single beneficiary. But he gets money going for the arts: it goes towards paying for him, the arts administrator, the scum on the bath of british culture; the Richelieu of south-east London. This particular one, this Mr D, is reported as saying that local artists are "culturally inbred". Well, er, cheers.

Now, I don't know what great place of learning Mr D attended to learn his wondrous insight. Nor do I know how many years of rubbing shoulders with Johnathon Miller, Pinter, Dylan Thomas, Bacon et al, with which he compares our local offerings.

The spider's web envelops us all. Characters like Mr D all over the land are promising paltry hundreds of pounds to only the very capitalist of projects. The arts wither on the vine. The arts administration industry is healthier than ever.

Richard Russell 2001

See Vox Pop for contributions to the Arts Admin debate.

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