Monday, 14 May 2007

Olympic Funding

The issue of cutting funding for the arts and culture because of the 2012 Olympic beast has been much discussed recently (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/6583657.stm). I’m still very angry, and I think you should be too.

Firstly the Olympics is supposed to boost culture with a ‘Cultural Olympiad’, being organised by The Southbank Centre’s Jude Kelly, to date she’s quite tight lipped as to what this means (yes, a festival of kultcha, I know!). I’m all for a showcase of British and international culture to coincide with the Olympics (we’ll have to have some distraction from the boring sports after all), but it would be madness to cut steady funding for a (relatively) thriving arts sector in the years preceding the games, only to make a short term tokenistic attempt to boost culture around the time of the Olympics itself. Much better that managed long(ish) term funding of at least the present levels are maintained, and that from this the Cultural Olympiad emerges. Perhaps with a little bit of help from the Olympic budget nearer the time to put the required ‘big events’ on with. For example, the RSC’s complete works festival could easily be the type of thing that would be perfect for the Olympiad, and that’s already been done on current funding, ditto the forthcoming Anthony Gormley exhibition at The Hayward Gallery (I love the view from Waterloo Bridge and The Festival Hall terrace, trying to spot all the sculptures).

Secondly, by cutting funding, the Government will erase a legacy or real achievement in the arts. It’s not perfect, but arts funding now is a hell of a lot better then pre 1997. One aspect of this transformation that I know of first hand is regional theatre, I currently travel around the country often to catch the essential and important work being done around the country (and I miss half of it). If this were 1987 not 2007, would I be travelling to Sheffield to see brilliant classics in The Crucible and innovative new work in The Studio? Would I be a regular visitor to Leeds and The West Yorkshire Playhouse, would I be at The Manchester and Brighton Festivals for several interesting events each year. No! Yes, places like The Royal Exchange (and many other venerable institutions) did exist, but now we have a vibrant theatre scene across the country which includes new and non commercial work. Here the commercial pressures of (and dumbing down of) the West End can be left behind, careers can be forged and talent spotted (alongside commercial theatre; thriller tours and musicals etc). I’m not saying it is easy for young actors, writers or directors, but there are outlets looking for just that; emerging talent (and indeed looking to employ fully fledged talent more often). I recently went back to Derby to see Merrily We Roll Along, there was an enthusiastic matinee audience and growing familiarity with Sondheim at that address because the artistic director has made a decision to put on a quality Sondheim production each year. Would that have happened in 1997? I won’t even start on the brilliant National Theatre of Scotland, who, in such a short time have become essential viewing (Blackwatch, The Wonderful World of Dissocia and Aalast anyone?).

Some of my greatest nights out have been at regional productions. Don Carlos and Lear at the Sheffield Crucible rank amongst the finest work I have ever seen on stage. I urge the Government not to cut the lifeblood of the theatre; grassroots and community organisations. If the small guys suffer, eventually the whole industry will suffer, and more importantly access to good theatre around our country will suffer.
Come on Gordon, have a heart….

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