Subsidised arts

A few inarticulate thoughts:

There has been a bit of a debate recently (that I’ve been reading, via my phone, on the way to work) about the place of subsidised arts in the ‘arts ecology’ of the UK. The general consensus seems to be that in these straightened times subsidised arts companies are becoming more conservative and as a result more overtly “commercial” in their programming. A friend of mine from Germany expressed the view recently that ‘if a commercial theatre is going to do it then a subsidised company has no business going anywhere near it’ and whilst I can completely understand the desire and need to maximise box office revenues I do agree with his point. The public subsidy surely exists in part to help create work that simply isn’t commercially in its (primary) focus.

I recently read an article written by Melvyn Bragg in the Daily Telegraph, the comments left under the article left no doubt that any public subsidy of the arts was an utter waste of money but given the readership of that particular paper that probably isn’t surprising. I have also heard directly from government ministers (who, depressingly, actually work at the DCMS) that there is ‘no point’ in public funding of the arts and it should be ‘left to the public to show what they want by where they spend their money’. But surely this is an utterly depressing viewpoint, if it was left entirely up to ‘market forces’ to dictate what art did and didn’t get made then we would (it seems to me) get stuck in a hideous downward spiral of banality until we reached some awful rock bottom that resembled the daytime TV schedule. Horrible.

But then maybe I’m just seeing this all through some lefty, guardianista, simplistic prism. Maybe we can’t afford to fund stuff that “noone wants to go and see”, that challenges audiences as opposed to to pandering to some arbitrary lowest common denominator of entertainment. Although if that is the case then I think I might move abroad, it’d be an entirely awful state for our society to end up in.

I’m aware that this is not an extensive, in-depth or particularly considered post, but it was on my mind.

Related stuff: (I realise there are a lot of Guardian links there so it’s probably not the most balanced selection of reading)

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