Less Policy Now!

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POSTED: April 23, 2006

On Thursday 21 April 2005 The Guardian published a moderately interesting set of mini interviews with fifty certified “arts luminaries” as part of their election coverage. The question they were each asked was: what would you do for culture if you were running the next government?

Several of them suggested the abolition of the Arts Council of England, an opinion which is now apparently seeping into the mainstream. This was stated most cogently by John Ashford the theatre director of the Place. He said:

Wind up arts councils and fund artists through producers, promoters and curators of vision. Leave it to them to develop the art and its audiences, and stop funding them if they fail. Reverse the tide of overzealous health and safety legislation that makes spaces for the arts anodyne: restore their magic. Teach creativity properly in schools. Don’t imagine the arts as society’s medicine but as its recreational drug: by no means without danger, but a lot of fun – even mind-expanding – if used wisely.

Tony Hall, the Chief executive of the Royal Opera House, and Neil McGregor, the Director of the British Museum, both argued for “a cultural foreign policy”.

There were, of course, the usual special interest pleas, with Jane Rice of Circus Space noting that “starving in a garret and suffering for your art is romantic nonsense.” There was also the even more usual liberal hand-wringing about “the need to educate people more” so that they can appreciate what we are doing, while we are not starving in our garrets.

Sometimes, though, this argument transcended special pleading to become something more serious. Nicholas Hytner, the Artistic director of the National Theatre, for example, said:

I’m not so concerned with cultural policy – the less cultural policy, the better. The worry for me is that generations of kids are being brought up who won’t be able to know what they like.

So, finally, the idea that there is such a thing as too much policy is seeping into the public consciousness.

It was noticeable though that tithing and mutual support are still not on the public agenda of any of our fifty certified “arts luminaries”. One day…