Earlier this year various big hitters from the arts establishment met in a closed-door colloquium to talk about the way in which the arts are funded in this country. At the end of the meeting, after the chief executive of the Arts Council Alan Davey had left, an informal vote was taken among those present on whether they would abolish the Arts Council itself. Six voted for the Arts Council to undergo “radical surgery”, but 18 - a good three quarters - supported total abolition. No one supported the status quo.
This story features in The Arts Council - Managed to Death, a report just published by the New Culture Forum. We got a good crowd along to the launch event, and the author Marc Sidwell did a great job of defending his main recommendation - that the Council in its present form is simply not working, and should go. They’re understandably not that keen on this idea, and have spent a far amount of time issuing rebuttals.
But the fact is, criticism of the Arts Council comes from many different sides these days, and not just from what we used to know as the Tebbit-tendency in the Tory Party. You don’t have to be a philistine to lose your temper when £30 million is lost on projects like the disastrous The Public, the gallery in West Bromwich which is now known as The Pink Elephant. Of course, it can be difficult getting those who receive funding to speak out. You’re asking them to bite the hand that feeds them. It takes some time for the supposedly unsayable to become sayable. But it’s beginning to happen.
There's another interesting fact which Marc highlighted: it seems that the last thing the Arts Council’s founder John Maynard Keynes envisaged was a bureaucracy dealing in hundreds of millions. Keynes has suddenly become fashionable again amongst those who crow about the end of free markets, but when it came to the fine arts he was quite a free marketeer himself. He believed that in the long run they could and should pay for themselves. Keynes - who'd have thought it?